How is economic development doing?
Mayor Chuck Hofmann is right to ask whether Baker City is getting much bang for the bucks it spends on "economic development."
He posed the question to a joint meeting of the Baker City Council and the Baker County Commission, attended by paid economic development staff.
But in doing so he was asking the wrong people to get a meaningful answer.
The politicans who created and continue to fund "economic development" aren't going to critically assess the program. Who torpedoes their own boat?
And the paid staff who may occupy the best-paid jobs "economic development" has managed to create aren't going to cast their work as overly successfully, much less marginal or fruitless.
Instead, the mayor ought to consider posing his inquiry to local businesses that have moved here, expanded here, or even left here in the last year.
Equally illuminating might be frank conversations with companies that have elected to look elsewhere.
Granted, it may not be easy to get this information. Private businesses are under no obligation to open up, especially if they fear their concerns might be aired in public.
And some see local government not as a partner but as an obstacle to economic development. If fee schedules, the permitting process and zoning give business people fits of confusion or anger, all of the best economic development efforts you can rally will be for nought.
We think the people best equipped to answer the mayor's question are not to be found inside government but outside it.
How's economic development doing? The answer lies in the actual experiences, good and bad, of the actual participants in the local economy.