Community Growth

Address by JOSEPH M. TURNER, CEO, Michigan Property Consultants
Delivered to the Hispanic Ministries Cultural Center, Saginaw, Michigan, October13, 2001

Good Morning!

I'm delighted to be here today.  After Gladys vonHoff contacted me and Maria Cepeda wrote me a nice letter, it was with great pleasure that I accepted this opportunity.  The first time I spoke before a primarily Hispanic group, was back in 1992 when a former classmate and good friend, Dr. Racquel Ontiveros asked me to speak to a group of Hispanic parents and their children about the changing job market. 

Her invitation enabled me to examine job generation in a whole new way.  I intend to use some of that original research in today's presentation on the future of our community.  As you may know, Racquel was taken from us by an unfortunate accident.  For that reason, I would like to dedicate today's effort to her.

Today we have two goals:  exploring the future and looking at the role one part of our community  (you) might play in that future.  

Let us look to the first examining the past.  Through that process we may be able to determine former trends and developments which determined what our community is today.  Then we will look at current trends to see options available to us. 

Hopefully, along the way, we'll encounter some interesting surprises.  Life has changed dramatically for all of us since September 11, 2001, but life has changed dramatically for Americans and the world any number of times the past.

Since we are speaking of community, I thought it might be interesting to put the first part of today's presentation into a context based upon the lifestyles of your families and mine. Families are of course the smallest or our communities.  It is families that create villages and cities and states and countries.

Think of your family. Let your minds drift back in time.  Imagine yourself on your mother or father's knee.  Remember the stories told by your parents and grandparents - there may be a couple of you who will need to think about your great grandparents, but looking at the gray heads around here - it won't be many.

My father and mother were born around 1920.  Now that was a time filled with change. After more than a half century of struggle, the passage of the 19th amendment to the US Constitution, gave women, for the first time in American history, the right to vote.  Incidentally, in 1920, as women got the right to vote, the 18th Amendment to our Constitution kicked in and booze was banned in the US!  Maybe we are not so far removed from the social mores of some other parts of the world.

By the way, my mother's parents, my grandparents, were immigrants to a new country.  Grandpa was born of European parents in Buenos Aires and grandma arrived from a little Polish village named Zawoja.  They of course, were participating in one of several major waves of immigration experienced by the US.

Everyone came to seek fortunes in a land of prosperity and freedom. America was the world's rising economic star.  By the turn of the 20th century, it had become the leading producer of steel in the world.  Its industrial plants introduced automation into assembly lines - producing cars which could be afforded by many people. Its farms flourished.  The US economy created a huge "middle" class of citizens - people not poor and not rich, just living comfortable lives. 

Industrial and technical advances seemed to take place every day. Responding to the new prosperity cities grew.  American's flocked to those cities...but agriculture remained a dominant force in society.  Electricity was available in most large towns, but much of rural America lived without it.  As a matter of fact, in our community on S. Charles St., the uncle of one Mr. Earl Rosa built a new home in 1913.  He plumbed it with gas lines for gas lighting.  In 1914, he built a home across the street, which was plumbed with wires for those new electric lights.

In the year my mother was born, a transforming technology was introduced. America's first AM commercial radio broadcasts began in July of 1920 at station KDKA in Pittsburgh and in August 1920 at WWJ in Detroit.  Radio sets wouldn't become common household items for a few years.  In fact, radio was so young and undeveloped technically, that solutions to its everyday problems hadn't been implemented in the 1920s.  For example, broadcasts formal radio stations were pretty close in frequency.  Transmissions from strong mainland commercial stations would often interfere with ships at sea trying to communicate.  Consequently, if you listened to a favorite radio station transmitting from near an ocean coast, you might have to wait patiently while it shut down because a ship at sea sent out a distress call.

Thomas Edison's wax cylinders used for recording purposes were being replaced by platters or disk recordings revolving at 78 revolutions per minute on a turntable.  The great war to end all wars (now known as World War I) was over.  Wartime technical advances metamorphosized into the widespread commercial use of automobiles and aeroplanes.  First attempts to pave roads were undertaken. 

Education was important, but one could get by easily without a high school education.  In fact, only 16 percent of 17 year olds entered the work force with a high school diploma.  Life was simple, but shorter.  The average life expectancy was only 54 years old.  While there were automobiles and planes and radios, they were not available to everyone. Horses were still used extensively to pull trolleys, deliver milk and in other ways.  The North and South Poles, Africa and Asia were just being explored.  Over 250,000 miles of undersea telegraph cable (enough to circle the earth 10 times) had been laid to connect the Old World to the new, but there was no such thing as speaking to someone across the ocean by voice.  In my mother's day, telegrams were the courier of information.  Even short wave radiotelephone conversations (such as ship to shore telephoning) did not occur commercially until my parents were in their teens. 

In the 1930s, most jobs required simple skills and the pool from which workers were hired was limited geographically to very short distances.  It was common for folks to buy or rent homes within walking distance of a job.

Now, by the time my friend Dr. Ontivaros and I were born in the late 1940's, new developments were modifying lifestyles.  The transistor had been invented.  FM radio was an experiment threatening to shift advertising cash flow from static laddened AM stations FM's clean pure audio reproduction.

Transportation had changed dramatically.  Let me give you an example. The Saginaw (Michigan) Art Museum featured a show in which one artist portrayeda scene at a railroad station in Tennessee.  The picture showed a train arriving and a family departing.  The train and its station looked a little drab.  The family was whisking down a ramp in their automobile, obviously happy, exhilarated and off to some great adventure. 

That scene depicted the demise of railroads, which for almost one hundred years had served as the primary means of moving people about the country.  It celebrated the advent of widespread automobile ownership, which created a far more mobile American society.  Individuals were now free from mass transportation.  Free to sojourn whenever and however they pleased. With that freedom came revolutions in lodging and marketing.  Motor lodges, "motels" would replace hotels as preferred lodging sites.  Fast food restaurants arose to serve the hectic lifestyle of motor vehicle operators and their passengers.  Corner grocery stores died in the1950s and 1960s. Replaced with new supermarkets and "malls".

It took until 1956, almost 100 years after the first undersea telegraph cable connected continents of the world, before entrepreneurs were able to send a human voice between Europe and North America for the first time.  In the very next year, 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik, bringing in the age of satellites.

The 1950s and 1960s were a time when US urban areas continued to attract people.  It was also the time for WW II technology to become part of the secular world.  As a result of the dawning of the atomic age in the form of military weapons, a "cold war" death threat frightened the entire world.  Governments and private citizens all built bomb shelters, places to live if a nuclear exchange took place.  The government was able to create giant caves in mountains and below the earth.   Citizens poured concrete to make living quarters in the dirt below their yards.  Former General, and then President Dwight Eisenhower inaugurated a special highway system to move military convoys quickly from one part of the country to another.  Our own I-75 is but one part of 42,500 miles of high speed “Interstate Highways" that now cross America.  There were civil defense drills all over.  I clearly remember wondering if I would ever live life as an adult.

The high school graduation rate had risen from the 16 percent we spoke of earlier to 56 percent, but it seemed as though a whole generation of Americans had dropped out of life.  Haight Ashbury in San Francisco attracted throngs of students, Peaceniks, Hippies and others.  America was moved by laws and protests.  National civil rights acts were passed.  Doors opened in education and jobs opportunities for more of our citizens.

Global communication was a reality.  Using it, popular music created one of the world's first international superstars - the Beatles.  They were the first group to use satellite communication to simultaneously broadcast all around the world.

America still led the world in manufacturing of all kinds and with its great economic power, the U.S. dominated world markets.  Jerry Flint, authored an article which appeared in the January 18, 1993 issue of Forbes Magazine. He described the memories of job hunting in our fast growing economy in this way:  "They recall fondly a society where an immigrant off the boat, or an unskilled coal digger from Kentucky, or an illiterate cotton picker from Mississippi could come to Detroit or Chicago or Pittsburgh and get a good factory job."

Now that has a familiar ring to me.  My grandfather on my mother's side worked the sugar beet fields in Sebawing.  My dad's mother and father came here from Kentucky to work the coalmines of the Saginaw Valley.

Mr. Flint's use of the past tense was appropriate.  Changes were in the air.  It became clear to social scientists that the world was literally shrinking.  Transoceanic crossings took days in the time of my mother’s youth, and there were no means to travel except boat. That same crossings could now be made in hours. 

Explorers no longer sought out distance places on earth as a first choice. Scientists with radio telescopes looked into space, across the universe and detected a thing called three-degree background radiation; an echo from the beginning of time.  President Kennedy directed NASA to prepare for landing a man on the moon.

Fearful of annihilating each other with nuclear weapons, both democratic and communist countries bombarded each other with intense propaganda campaigns instead of bombs. The intent was to spread  "truth" to each other's citizens in hopes governments would fall from internal pressures. Slowly, through illicit radios and smuggled books, citizens did become knowledgeable of each other and of differing lifestyles.  The culmination of those efforts was the end of the cold war, the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the demise of old style European communism.

Consequently, children of baby boomers have been raised without experiencing widespread war.  75 percent of my daughter's classmates will graduate annually across the U.S.    Due to modern medicine, improved working conditions and an abundance of good quality food, their natural life expectancies have been extended to the late 70s, a lifespan 75 percent longer than that of their grandparents.

So, in the lifespan of ourselves, our parents and in some cases our grandparents, we have seen tremendous change.  Changes in were we live.  How we move about.  How long we'll occupy this earth. 

The world is far more complex now than it was two generations ago.  There’s been a shift in employment from primarily agriculture, to industry and now services.  We have seen communication evolve from the telegraph wires to bouncing our voices off satellites to and from anywhere in the world.  We have lived through times of war and peace.  We've survived threats to the extinction of the world. 

One message I'd like to leave today is the reminder that through all this, our communities have grown and prospered.  We should expect that with your dedication and willingness to lead, the future will likewise bear good fruit.

I hope the economic and social evolution we've just reviewed sheds some light on the foundations for where we want to go.  We intuitively know these changes.  The oft-told proclamation of recent years that there are only six degrees of separation between each of us.  That is, we are each only separated by six people from knowing anyone else in the world - now seems realistic.

Marketing products, that is running a business, in this community and across America is driven by changes in our demographics.  The front-page article in the August 1999 edition of Shopping Centers Today, stated that the urban market place in America was estimated at $85 Billion, an amount greater than the entire economy of Mexico.  Such money represents opportunity for new jobs in cities across the country.  The article went on further to identify and tout the fact that urban residents who receive quality products at fair prices form an extremely loyal revenue base.

We are no longer just competing in America's communities for the same types of jobs, with people from the same geographic regions, the same labor pool, or even the same cultures.  Our competition is worldwide.  A few days ago, BBC short-wave radio broadcast reported on working conditions and the migration of work forces from one nation to another. The reporter stated that at any given time 3 percent of the world's population - literally millions of workers are leaving one country to work in another.

Even different age groups are competing for jobs in an unusual way.  For example, fast food restaurants, once the domain of our very youngest laborers, now reach out to hire older workers. Engineers in former soviet bloc countries and computer programmers in India each complete tasks for U.S. companies using internet telecommunications.

Therefore, you may want to explore activities such as sister city relationships.  Experience has taught that manufacturers and even service industry employers make decisions based upon regional, continental and even global considerations.  These linkages might open doors to new opportunity.

Remember change is tough.  It uproots people, alters lifestyles and forces one to get better.  Time after time, we have faced change in our labor pools.  Saginaw was the world's leading lumber producer in the 1800s, but that died out.  Workers then switched to oil and coal production, but that died out.  Workers then embraced industrial and manufacturing employment.  Since the 1950s manufacturing jobs in America have diminished.  In a large part, because fewer workers are needed due to technology, computers and robotics.

Martin Bailey of the Brookings institution was quoted as having said, "Some of the things that may seem most worrisome such as job losses and plant closings, are actually signs of health.  A successful manufacturing sector will have high and growing productivity.  It will also, as acorollary experience, unsettling turnover as less productive plants closedown...When manufacturing is, in addition, participating actively in international trade, production and jobs will move around and many jobs will be lost." It is important then, that governments work with employers facing these struggles.

So, goes the story of our foundations.  As are all Americans, we are transient, adaptable people with skills learned from change and its companion necessity.  Shortly, I am going to provide you with a number of demographics specific to your community. 

Before that, permit me to suggest two acronyms that contain fundamental concepts which experience has taught me will address most of the problems you may encounter in planning the future of this community.
The first of these I call TICs on the body of government.  The second I refer to as GRRs.

Most of you are familiar with deer ticks; those little parasitic critters living on deer in the woods around here.  Sometimes a deer tick may bite a human.   When that happens, it could result in a disease that produces a kind of autoimmune response.  There will be an area of damage, an inflammation which begins spreading.  You may not die, but your body may react as though it had arthritis; moving slowly and hurting. 
Well cities can react that way.  The TIC on the body of government is composed of Taxes, Image and Crime.  If TICs are out of wack, a community may not become a ghost town, but it can slow down and hurt.

Of these components, the most important is crime.  People who come to a community need to feel safe.  If they aren't safe, they won't live there.  When business owners feel an area isn't safe, they may come (if profits are high enough), but you'll have a devil of a time keeping jobs and attracting new ones.

Then there is image.  An old adage states, "one broken window invites another."  The point being that if a community doesn't take care of its property, others view it as a place to wreak more damage.  Neatness and cleanliness are critical to selling yourself and generating jobs.  Car sparked on front lawns, ill kept housing, unsavory business operations and any of the multitude of other signs of decadence one sees in failing communities must be addressed. Not just once in a while, but day after day.  Your community should be cleaned as often as you clean and vacuum your own home. 

Included with image is something almost as important as personal safety, the level that your public schools function at.  If you have a good or even average school system, and attract people to your community.  If the school system is perceived as poor or dangerous, few people will be enticed to voluntarily enroll their children or join the community.

The last component of TICs on the body of government is the tax burden. While there are many points of view on taxation,  the overriding perception must be that property and income tax burdens are commiserate with benefits from living within the community.  Can any of you think of a situation where a higher than normal tax burden is considered acceptable? 

Well, imagine whatever wealthy community you want to in America.  High taxes are just a routine part of living there.  They come with the territory.  Of course it is a territory limited to relatively few others.  One  you can be assured has nothing but the best: in appearance, in schools and in government. 

On the other hand, many failing communities have raised tax rates on property and some have added income or other forms of special taxes.  In doing so, they've damaged themselves dramatically.  If you ain't the best place to live, you'd better not create a big tax burden compared to your better lookin' neighbors.

The second acronym experience revealed is GRRs.  Now a GRR is a government rule or regulation that simply doesn't make any sense and creates a lot of irritation.  You probably all have some story you could tell about some stupid regulation or government interaction.  The IRS was notorious for having employees who each gave a different answer to the same income tax question. A poor taxpayer with a question might have to sift through layers of answering machines and voice messages without ever finding out how to file properly.  It may have been you went to some local government office and were given directions on what was permitted one day, and then told that something more would be required on the next day.  The whole point of this is,  for the community to grow, it must be responsible and competent in the areas it addresses.

You've asked what the future holds.  I can tell you only that it will change and that you and other leaders must do your best to encourage flexible, perceptive and responsible governance.  May I offer these suggestions:

1. Demand performance.  I am totally convinced people in healthy communities expect government, industry and their leaders to conduct themselves in ways that are in the best interests of the community.  Conversely, people in failing or distressed communities have come to expect that no one will correct lawlessness and disorder. Consequently, they accept nuisances and even dangerous conditions as beyond their control - or even worse, as simply part of life.

2. Remember TICs and GRRs.  Keep your community neat and clean.  A city doesn't need to be rich to attract people and jobs - just safe and presentable.

3. Be honest,  with yourselves and others. Look at the work of various community institutions accepting the bad and the good.  My experience hasbeen that almost anything bad about a community in distress will be taken as gospel and the good things accomplished  often go unrecognized.  Thisof course, perpetuates the image of a loser.  Fight hard to see successes are acknowledged. 

4. Incorporate the "arts" within your community.  Where blight and poverty exist, it is critical to open the eyes of everyone to beauty, creativity and imagination.  From a strictly business point of view, it makes sense.  Tom Dority, writing in the June 1994 Michigan Municipal Review pointed out that, the output of the arts "economy" in the U.S. is now greater than the national construction industry."  I challenge you to show me one successful community that doesn't have some form of the arts as part of its quality of life.

5. Remember the cost of doing business.  The application of an incentive program must be fair to the public and investors.  I'm speaking of tax breaks, exemptions and actual outlays of public funds to encourage business and housing development.  These programs are important and worthwhile when applied properly.  However, it is easy to loose a sense of balance when negotiating a deal.  About 1990, published literature showed that government units winning competition for big projects (say 1,000 well paying jobs or more) would commit between $10,000 and $50,000 per job in incentives.  The most recent figures show that these commitments have risen to between $150,000 and $200,000 per job.  The best illustration I can give you of that change is the complaint of an Indiana man in his local newspaper after the public found out what local government officials had offered to attract a 4,000 job project.  He said,  "The debt you have created will never be paid off in my life time, nor in life time of my children.  It will be paid off by our grandchildren." 

6. Finally,  I ask each of you to seriously consider joining a decision making body:  the local Board of Education,  the local city council or County Board of Commissioners, a planning commission or a tax assessment reviewboard.  We can only function well as a community if our citizens participate.

In closing, let us remember what "community" really means. Take the letters apart.  In direct order of the original word, you may note "city"  or "county" are components of "community".  By adding one letter, you create "country".   Community  means we are a part of some larger group.  It means family and friends, acquaintances, a neighborhood , a village, city, state, country or an entire world. 
Members of communities are connected to each other.  We feel kinship. It is why we in this spot of the earth cry for victims of tragedies physically far away.  It is why people and countries work together for a common goal.  The connectedness  means we will try to understand and act. Belonging to a larger community is why as American's we contribute to alleviate hunger or poverty on other parts of  this globe.  It is why we risk the lives of our most precious citizens, our young in the military, so peaceful enjoyment of life may be enjoyed by each individual.  I'm sure, it is why you members of this think tank, are working hard to make our local city better. 
Thank you for inviting me to today's discussion of our role in community.