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Friday, October 8, 2010

Heidepriem on Economic Development: Think Local, Think Miner County!

Economic development policy is much more than magic phrases. But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem has said two magic phrases that signal he's my guy on economic development.

Phrase #1: "Smokestack-chasing"... as in don't do it. Heidepriem recognizes that the Toyota lottery doesn't pay off. He wants to refocus South Dakota's economic development efforts on retaining and expanding our native talent and resources. In an interview in Monday's print MDL, Heidepriem says "we need to get away from the idea of hitting a home run and instead think about getting a series of singles and doubles." Heidepriem sees more solid growth coming from retaining and expanding businesses that already call South Dakota home. Compare that to his Republican opponent in the governor's race, Dennis Daugaard, who wants to keep throwing incentives at footloose businesses to get them to relocate to South Dakota. (I still think you're asking for trouble when you build your business strategy around luring owners who will leave a community just to shave a fraction off their taxes.)

Phrase #2: "Miner County"... as in do what they're doing. Miner County is not the biggest or richest county in the state. But Miner County is doing economic development right. Miner County doesn't pin all of its hopes on landing one big factory or call center from who-knows-where. Miner County focuses on economic gardening, on building human capital among their own people through education and entrepreneurship, as epitomized by the broad, holistic economic focus of the Rural Learning Center. Miner County's developers try to be inclusive and open to conversations, as epitomized by their blog, Reimagine Rural. Miner County also makes an effort to learn from and share the lessons from other rural communities around the state and beyond, as shown by Reimagine Rural's regular attention to Heidepriem's hometown of Miller. (To his credit, Daugaard mentioned something about "small-town specialists" in his economic plan last spring.)

Economic development for rural South Dakota (and that's most of South Dakota) requires something more than the same old "We'll work hard for peanuts and not tax you" thinking that rules now. Heidepriem's economic plan suggests that he understands the need to develop our rural human capital in creative ways.
Bonus Economic Development Plans: Daugaard says he'll throw another $60 million in the Revolving Economic Development and Initiative (REDI) Fund. He says he'll order a thorough review of the state's books to identify land and buildings we could sell to raise that money. I would think that, having been Lieutenant Governor for eight years, he might already have a pretty good idea of prime properties for the state to unload. And what if he does that review and finds we don't have $60 million worth of mostly useless property? Whither his plan?

Another party-line irony: while Republican Daugaard wants to put more state money into the REDI Fund, Democrat Heidepriem wants to privatize it, having private lenders float the loans while the state guarantees a portion of them. Heidepriem says that's how the Small Business Administration and USDA Office of Rural Development do it.

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