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March 13, 2011
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The right kind of criticism

     For many people, the sign of a new office building or factory under construction is a sign that a community is alive and thriving.
     Recently, the activities of a newly established business group have raised concerns about barriers to economic progress. The Partners for Economic Progres (PEP for short) are concerned with maintaining and enhancing a vibrant economy for The Dalles area through investment and job creation.
     “We aim to create partnership between local government, local businesses, investors and individuals, to ensure a strong, vibrant and welcoming local business climate,” reads the organization’s mission statement.
     They concern themselves with a variety of issues and concerns related to:
     • a positive business climate,
     • regulatory barriers,
     • work-readiness or its lack among the local worker population,
     • effective public-private cooperation,
     • creating a unified economic vision for the community,
     • providing a pool of knowledgeable individuals as advisers on economic issues.
     All the members of the group are private business people with investment in The Dalles area. Some are among the elder statesmen of our business community with decades of experience. Others are younger, active up-and-coming members of the business community.
     Their goals are laudable. In earlier years, The Dalles has been lauded for its “open for business attitude.” Actions over the past few years, as well as concerns about workforce readiness, have called that attitude into question in some minds — and with good reason.
     In this hungry state and national economy, communities like The Dalles need to guard against being seen as obstructive to economic growth lest they be relegated to the backwaters of the business world.
     Realistically, economic growth is what makes it possible for communities to improve their infrastructure. It’s hard to justify new schools, for example, when the economy is hurting, tax revenues for operations are flat and new students aren’t putting pressure on classroom space. The same is true of roads, parks and other infrastructure. When we don’t have growth, we are often forced to live with decaying infrastructure. If our policies and practices inhibit growth, we run the risk of turning away people who would be happy to invest here.
     That said, pro-development interests in The Dalles are often extremely sensitive to any perceived criticism or negativity where development is concerned.
     In our drive to maintain a thriving community, we need to continue to be sure that diverse community interests are brought into the conversation.
     Should a supposedly anti-development individual be barred from a position on the planning commission?
     The public process, including the regulation of development, benefits from diverse and constructive viewpoints. Even as we promote growth in our area, we need to leave room for diversity of thought that helps make our community better in different ways.
     At its worst, criticism is little more than backbiting, infighting and nitpicking. At its best, it brings about an outcome of which the entire community can be proud.
     That’s the kind of criticism that will make The Dalles a better place to live for all concerned.

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