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I sat with a group of business leaders a few weeks back and one stated that their goal was to make San Diego as business friendly as possible. (I guess these are the greedy capitalists.) And then I sat with and listened to others groups that talk about creating a San Diego with the best quality of life. (I assume they are anti-business, destroy-the-economy types.)

How can these things be counterposed when they should be the same thing?

There are some business leaders who define the “best business climate” as the lowest taxes, the lowest wages, the fewest environmental regulations — just being left alone. But there are others who define it differently — a world class infrastructure, highly educated workforce, housing that workers can afford and healthy consumer spending (and perhaps even a nice place to raise their own families with clean beaches, parks, libraries, culture, etc., etc.).

While I’m not a business leader, I certainly want San Diego to have a healthy competitive regional economy. That’s good for business profits and good for workers that share the fruits of their productivity.

So I ask my friends in the business community (answers without political posturing and rhetoric please): How can you have a great business climate:

  • If you underinvest in your physical infrastructure (you wouldn’t in your own business) and let it fall into disrepair.
  • If you don’t invest in a world class education system — both K-12, community college and higher education.
  • If there are 500,000 uninsured people in San Diego draining our public resources and burdening our hospitals.
  • If wages of San Diego workers don’t put enough money in people’s pockets to afford homes, raise their children and spend in the region to grow the tax base and regional economy.
  • If you don’t have decent level of city services: libraries that round out our world-class education system; adequate public safety so that, when people call 911, they get response times that we would want for our own families; and parks, beaches, museums and other things that would make San Diego a good place to raise a family.
  • If we don’t have homes that people can afford to rent or own. This means that they have to match the wages of the jobs we are creating.
  • If the natural environment (air, water, beaches, parks) in San Diego of all places isn’t the envy of the nation and world.

If, in fact, these are real elements of a healthy business climate, than there’s a basis to have a real dialogue. Because they also happen to define a good quality of life for the people that live and work here.

For such a dialogue to succeed, mature leaders would have to surmount the core challenges:

  • The Quality-of-Life faction would have to acknowledge that businesses need certain things to be competitive.
  • The Business-Climate faction would have to acknowledge that you get what you pay for; workers do, in fact, need family-supporting wages; and that lowest cost isn’t always the shortest route to a healthy, balanced regional economy.

The goal is where we decide together about the region we want and we decide that our guiding principle is that we all share the burden of making the region great and we need to all share in the benefit.

Any takers?

DONALD COHEN

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