It seems the Montgomery County Development chief, Joe Tuss, and his boss, County Administrator Debbie Feldman, have a crush on Kevin Costner. They watch the movie “Field of Dreams” over and over and think if they keep saying “Build it and they will come,” they will have success.
The meeting was well attended, with a lot of interest about the location of the new “ice arena” that no one has made a strong case for- yet. In fact, the very idea that building a sports arena, even a successful one, brings other investment needs to be evaluated closely. Look at the “success of 5th/3rd Field” (which Sandy Mendelson called the 7th wonder of the United States) and realize that in terms of net jobs: Brixx opened, an architect redid a factory into apartments and office space, and 10 years later another business is revamping space nearby (Real Art), and in Woolpert, a major employer of white-collar jobs left for Greene County. Sum total of new jobs- a net loss.
The need for the intersection was justified by current employers in the area of the interchange: Lexis Nexis, New Page and Teradata. To which I responded: all started out in Downtown as Mead or NCR. They talked about future jobs at newer businesses- and I pointed out that there are companies they already gave tax breaks to for new jobs that have not only not produced new jobs- but lost jobs. They said that we need to compete with other intersections by offering more of the same plus an ice rink- to be the “Northern anchor” of I-75 to which others said- “Isn’t that supposed to be downtown?”
We’ve been following the same strategy for years. It hasn’t been working well for us. Government and tax breaks don’t make for sound business foundations- ever. When I pointed to the shell game of moving businesses based on incentives- they belittled my point claiming they offered Teradata and New Page all kinds of deals- and they wouldn’t stay, yet, moving from a high income tax location like Dayton at 2.25% to a zero % tax rate like Washington Township sure is a pretty big carrot to a CEO making an easy two-comma income.
As long as we’re going to make a concession on tax breaks- maybe it’s time to cap the amount of income that can be charged income tax on in any community in Montgomery county to the first $250,000, but have all of them pay 3% on that first $250,000 to try to level the playing field a bit. (btw- pick a number- could be $400,000, same as the US President as well).
Feldman agreed with me about ideas like smart growth, UniGov and more equitable tax plans- but placed the blame on State government. I place it on our local leaders for not pushing the issue harder- instead of talking about pie in the sky ice arenas while basic services go lacking.
There were a lot of interesting people in the crowd- but, I’ve started to see a trend at these meetings: the kings are in the back of the room, and the pawns up front. Mike Ervin doesn’t need a crown and scepter, but, he’s sure being made out to have both.
Also- when asked about doing these deals in back rooms- and having your talking points leaked that disparaged the Dayton Bombers, Feldman got really defensive. Never a good move- admit your mistake in ignoring the existing business in the chase for the ever elusive silver bullet that a true lack of vision demands.
But, the last and most important observation: when asked what impact would happen to Austin Road if the Arena didn’t end up making sense- or being built- if they had a plan B? Answering that you don’t have a plan B- grants you an instant FAIL.
True leadership always has a plan B. Hail Marys only work in Football and in church, growing our community demands more.