Monday, September 26, 2016

Mankato is doing just fine, thank you

By Leigh Pomeroy

About a month ago, Peter Nelson of the Center of the American Experiment, which bills itself as “Minnesota’s think tank”, contributed a piece to the Mankato Free Press op-ed pages entitled “Minnesota’s policies hold Mankato back”.

Mr. Nelson acknowledges that the city “boasts an unemployment rate well below the state rate and has experienced stronger growth in employment, labor force and population over the past 10 years.” This is great news!

However, he argues that “Mankato can do even better.” How? He says that Mankato is not growing fast enough.

To me as a former educator, this is like telling an “A-” student, “You aren’t doing well enough: Do better!” Not a good approach.

He blames Mankato’s ability to perform short of excellence (by his standards) on Minnesota’s tax policies: They’re not as business friendly as Iowa’s, for example. In addition, there is too much government regulation in Minnesota as compared to Iowa, listing oil pipelines as an example.

Yet looking into Mr. Nelson’s analysis reveals one of the great failings of the maximum growth fantasists: They insist on measuring everything in dollars and percentages.

What’s wrong with this? Quality of life does not depend on growth, personal or business income and the amount one has in savings and investments. It is far more encompassing than that.

Yes, money does matter for individuals and families who are struggling to feed their families, provide housing, have affordable and comprehensive health care, feel like they and their kids are receiving the benefits of at least the American middle-class lifestyle.

But other factors not easily quantified by analysts and number crunchers mean a lot more. For example: safe neighborhoods, effective and efficient local governments, easy-to-access local services, good schools, available parks and recreational opportunities, accepting and supporting churches, and much more.

Can these be translated into numbers? Do they constitute growth?

In Mankato, every housing or commercial development on the edge of town covers over our rich blue earth soils, displaces the natural flora and fauna within, and creates new drainage, city services and transportation issues, just to name a few challenges.

Further, growth often brings with it more crime, more traffic jams, more displaced persons, more violence and a host of other societal problems.

As a former resident of California and Colorado I have seen where growth and development have obliterated once prime fruit-growing regions and have taken away all the natural gifts that beckoned settlers to those areas in the first place. It’s the old lifeboat argument: The lifeboat provides safety, but if it’s too full it sinks.

In Mankato we need to look beyond the growth that the number crunchers claim we should achieve. We need to decide how big a greater community we wish to become. We need to decide on what we value most, then aim for those goals regardless of what outsiders advocate. We must grow smart, not fast. And we must remember that growth is a double-edged sword, and that when it stops, as inevitably it will, we must anticipate the challenges that no-growth brings.

These are the goals we need to set. In the meantime, we should thank Mr. Nelson and the Center of the American Experiment for their input. But we must ask them respectfully to either move to the Iowa that they revere or simply leave us alone.

This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press.

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