Not too long ago, Arkansas was impoverished, with many people living without electricity and indoor plumbing, diseases like malaria and hookworm devastating the population, and the highest debt in the nation.
Now, Northwest Arkansas is prosperous.
Partly, this is the Walton family and Walmart. Having some local billionaires who want to support their community (even if, as some bloggers claim, it’s all for show or at the very best to encourage urban professionals to be willing to take a job here) is a big help.
But it also involved some sensible planning and decision making, plus the collaboration of lots of people who didn’t become billionaires. They worked together to create the infrastructure that they knew they would need to grow their businesses.
Then, the region as a whole decided to focus on clean, well-paying jobs. IT and biotech, sustainable energy and logistics are encouraged here. There are small businesspeople who decide to do something else, of course, but as a region we’re working toward highly-trained and highly-paid jobs.
Without the earlier decision to get an airport, good roads, and electricity in all the homes, the later decision to encourage “headquarters” jobs instead of more chicken plants would not have worked.
In Puerto Rico, they decided to sell their capacity to corporations for tax credits. They didn’t get many jobs, and they didn’t get much money, either. It was more like washing funds through the island for the sake of tax breaks.
They didn’t build on tourism as their Caribbean neighbors did. Instead, the government became the largest employer. I don’t know what level of corruption or mismanagement there might have been. I do know that they got heavily into debt, to the point where they were borrowing money to make payments on the debt.
I spoke with someone in Puerto Rico who does much what our company does, and they said they had a back up internet service and back up generator, so they had no infrastructure problems.
To me, that sounds like an infrastructure problem.
In the past few years, Puerto Rico has announced involvement in lots of industries: medical tourism (we do that, actually), fashion (we’ve got Fashion Week here on a small scale), aeronautics, IT (one of our big industries) — but it’s always an announcement, with maybe a single action. Often there’s no discernible action, just the announcement.
Why not work together to identify the infrastructure needs and get them taken care of, then identify the industry or industries to focus on and actually do it?
I’m an ordinary citizen, and not any more knowledgeable about any of these things than most, but I can’t help feeling that they’re doing it wrong in Puerto Rico.
Success builds on success. Revolutions are built on victories.