Cutting costs doesn’t bring in new revenue. Dayton’s dilemma

Income tax revenues are down. Population is dwindling. Services are being cut. Size remains the same.

Convert the above to a business: sales down, customer base shrinking, support staff is cut and we haven’t reduced our expectations for sales. Not exactly a turnaround strategy, and bankruptcy isn’t an option for the City.

In the boardroom (the Commission chambers) there is zero discussion of what can we do to attract customers. The CEO (the City Manager) isn’t asked to present options except when the board asks (a total under-utilization of the position). While this is going on, a bunch of fan clubs (other “economic development” authorities- Citywide, Downtown Dayton Partnership, Dayton Business Committee, Dayton Development Coalition, UpDayton, and to a lesser extent- Montgomery County and Five Rivers Metro Parks) are running in circles like loose electrons, causing secondary explosions (Austin Road plans, BRAC) that distract the core (City of Dayton) from focusing on steps to regroup.

If anything, we need a strong hand on the rudder right now- with a direction that is clear- a turnaround specialist, a czar, a benevolent dictator. Someone who understands the strengths and weaknesses of the City and can focus on building on the strengths. It’s not an overnight plan, a silver bullet or a wave of a magic wand. It’s also not going to be achieved by committee.

Over the years, I have pointed out Dayton’s strengths and weaknesses (everything else on this site :-)- and may ideas on how to capitalize on the inherent good of our community. Right now, we need to take bold steps to change our course, and the first one has to be to believe that we are changing.

Much has been said about our negative attitudes and internal Dayton bashing. I used to give the local media a pass, but no longer. It’s time we held them accountable. We’re more than the crime and failed business report.

The local political party infrastructure has also disenfranchised change agents. New voices not welcome, don’t even think about running for office until you’ve kissed the ring. This may explain why the level of rhetoric rarely raises beyond a whisper. The Dayton Tea Party that’s happening this Wednesday won’t even let candidates speak- for fear of breaking the rules (more on that in a future post). So much for revolutionary thought from revolutionaries. It would seem we’re having a tea party of the English manor sort.

Can we turn Dayton around on a twenty year plan? That was the group-think 20/20 vision process almost ten years ago- and yet, not much has changed.

What would a plan look like? It’d have to be really short and succinct to really be effective. Ask any winning coach, simple game plans work. Complex ones have too many opportunities for failure.

  1. Dayton Public School perception must be fixed before we can expect to keep families of higher wage earners in town. Starting a city wide subsidized day care for City residents and employees would give people an opportunity to get familiar with DPS and help give kids a true headstart. We have new buildings- and we’ve always had teachers that want to teach. What’s been missing is the connection to the community – thanks to court imposed busing.
  2. We have inexpensive housing and assets to train any workforce (Sinclair). It should be a no-brainer to get companies to consider relocating here based on cost of doing business. If we sounded like we had our act together- instead of so much partisan bickering between our many municipalities, we might do a lot better at recruiting.
  3. Regional government is inevitable- we need to work toward it and “Best practices.” It’s hard to do business when there is no consistency between jurisdictions. The latest news that their are businesses that can’t figure out which county to pay sales tax in should be a clear indication. Regional government isn’t just about government either- it’s also about regional parks systems (like 5 Rivers Metro Parks) and libraries (Dayton Public Library is a good example) and other “public infrastructure” (to include ice rinks and even arts organizations – Culture Works is another great example). Regional thinking has to be on all our minds.

Looking back at the post of strengths– it seems we really should be one of the coolest mid-size success stories in the country. The only thing holding us back is us.

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