Saturday, March 10, 2007

Fire Sale

“If we keep doing what we're doing, we're going to keep getting what we're getting.”

- Steven Covey

Earlier in the week a prominent Emporian took a sideswipe at my campaign. That’s a good sign; it means that my message of Community, Opportunity, Responsibility is taking hold and hitting the mark. In a morning radio spot he said that there’s a commission candidate who “likes to talk about our low incomes and 21st century jobs.” He was only half right. I do talk about our low incomes and the need for 21st century jobs. But, I don’t really “like” to talk about it. I just believe that we have to face the facts and change direction.

In the course of his discussion he also said that we should all “shop Emporia first.” I agree with him there. In fact, that’s one area where my wife Nancy and I put our money where are mouths are. The folks at Sears know this to be true. We recently purchased a large number of appliances there for her mother’s house. The folks at Hill’s Appliance also know this is true. We just purchased a dishwasher there. I’ve purchased jewelry at Stanley’s in downtown Emporia. I buy books at the Town Crier and groceries at Reeble’s Country Mart. The centerpiece of our living room is an electronic grand piano, an anniversary gift for my wife, which I purchased at Flint Hills Music. When Nancy’s not looking I sneak an occasional donut at Willard’s Daylight Donuts or a piece of fudge at the Sweet Granada. When I need a special gift I’m know to frequent Madelynn’s or the Sunflower Nook (which will unfortunately soon close its doors). We also contribute to city projects like the Granada Theatre Alliance, Emporia State University, the Rescue Mission, and our church.

My detractor also said that we need to focus on retail here in Emporia. While I think it needs attention as part of an overall strategy, I don’t believe it should be our main focus. What we need is an infusion of business capital and disposable income. Right now our median household incomes here in Emporia are about the lowest in Kansas ($30,000). That’s twenty-seven percent lower than the Kansas average and thirty-seven percent lower than the national average. Our poverty rates here are five to seven percent higher than the state and national averages. The sad truth is that there isn’t enough disposable incomer in Emporia right now to support the retail first strategy. That’s why we need to focus on 21st century jobs paying 21st century wages.

I walked through downtown Emporia yesterday and this is what I saw. Outfitters, a clothing store, has closed its doors. A block or so from there a hospice support business has ceased its operations. This is all part of a trend. I went to the Flint Hills Mall last night and saw that there are three or for storefronts with “for lease” signs prominently displayed. The fact is, businesses, particularly small businesses, are having a great deal of difficulty succeeding because of the toxic combination of the limited number of disposable dollars available and the extremely high business taxes here. Our residential mill levy is obscene enough. The business levy is twice as obscene as that. A small business with a valuation of $125,000 pays about $5,000 in taxes each year. The 2007 increase on that valuation means an increase of another $500 per year. That number doubles for a business valued at $250,000. The city seems to think that businesses can just keep absorbing the skyrocketing taxes. The truth is, businesses are now frantically trying to sell just to keep pace with the taxes. For example, a business selling a $50 widget or a restaurant selling a $50 meal operating on a margin of 7% would have to sell up to twenty-five additional widgets or meals a month just to keep pace with the taxes. Given that, it’s no wonder that businesses are leaving or failing. It’s the inevitable outcome of bad city policy. If we keep doing what we’re currently doing the final stage of the downfall will be the fire sale. I do not want that!

The way forward is difficult. There’s no doubt about it. But, it can be done. In the early sixties we were miles behind the Soviets in the space race. With each launch failure it appeared we were destined to lose. In the middle of this succession of failures, President John Kennedy committed the nation to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth by the end of the 1960s. It seemed impossible at the beginning of our national march, but history records that two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, walked on the moon in 1969!

Fixing Emporia’s problems won’t be easy, but I’m convinced we have the intellectual, moral, and spiritual firepower power to begin our long march. I believe that by the end of the first decade of the 21st century Emporia can be a truly first class Kansas city!. But, in order to do that we must change course. As Steven Covey said, “If we keep doing what we're doing, we're going to keep getting what we're getting.”

1 comment:

James Fletcher Baxter said...

I'm reminded of another great comment.

" When you come to a fork in the road, take it." - Yogi Berra

semper fidelis