To support this argument, consider a number Schultz tossed out at a presentation at USD last week. As Mike Knutson heard it, Schultz said there were maybe "only 200 significant 'smokestack chasing' projects in the entire country" last year. Schultz means the kind of big industrial developments cities and towns try to recruit in what some call the "Toyota lottery." So what are the odds of winning that lottery?
- Suppose there are 10,000 towns competing to recruit those 200 wandering employers.
- In a given year, your town's chances of landing that big employer are 200/10,000 = 2%.
- Over four years (the amount of time our current economic development exec, Dwaine Chapel, has been at Madison's economic development corporation), the chances failing to win that lottery even once: 92%.
- You could play the Toyota lottery for 34 years and still have a 50% chance of not scoring one big smokestack project.
Building more small local businesses gives more local people a chance to be their own bosses. That creates more community leaders who, in their experience helming their own small businesses, get used to exercising their initiative and leadership and thus have more time, money, and inclination to get involved with leading other local projects. That means more social capital moving around a small community and making good things happen.
Strangely, the LAIC just doesn't seem interested in expanding that class of local entrepreneurs. I wonder: maybe too many individual owners with successful independent businesses would create too much independent wealth, too many independent movers and shakers who would upset established power structure of the community.
We'll know that's not the case when we see the LAIC inviting Jack Schultz to speak in Madison.