Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Open For Business

In a world of internet-driven “instant fame”, we sometimes forget that enduring success doesn’t happen quickly or easily. That’s true in our personal and professional lives, and it’s true in community-building. Active, committed, and engaged communities don’t happen by accident, and they don’t happen overnight. They are the result of hard work by all community sectors working together.
One of the key elements in progressive communities is a strong nucleus of support from their business sector. Yet there is very little public discussion about the role and responsibility of business in the evolution of the communities in which they operate.
Why is that? I suspect that it is at least partly due to the powerful influence of key “anti-tax”, “pro-business” lobbies like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. These organizations reflexively resist taxation- the source of capital for public investment- as an impediment to business growth. Their media sidekicks portray tax increases as a flagrant attack on the interests of those patriotic Canadian (and multi-national) businesses who bring jobs to Canadian communities. Such groups give short shrift to the significant business interests in community social investment or community environmental protection.
Does business really have an interest in community self-investment? Do successful, sustainable businesses require good roads in the community to serve their customers, suppliers and workers? Does a school educating current employee’s children and tomorrow’s workers benefit a sustainable business? Does a company operating in a community for the long haul benefit when its’ host community has a sustainable physical and social environment?
There are many businesses in Alberta that answer with a resounding “yes”, and they back their words with their resources. They contribute their taxed and donated dollars, and provide the volunteer contributions of their staff to the community. It’s worthwhile noting that these community-minded businesses include businesses with local, Canadian, and/or multi-national ownership.
There are also companies that drive hard bargains with host communities for free land, tax holidays and other perks paid for by the community. Yet, as the people of Edmonton recently learned, companies like Dell Computers quickly hightail it out of town when the going gets a wee bit rough.
Sustainable businesses are an integral part of holistic, sustainable communities. Community leaders are right in working hard to attract business that generates employment. However, it’s a two-way street, and it’s two-way bargaining. The community needs to sell itself to the business and the business needs to sell itself to the community.
That’s why active, committed and engaged communities will continue to seek businesses that are in business for the long haul and the common community good. They will quickly weed out those who are looking only for the “least-cost site”. After all, who needs a business that’s here today and gone tomorrow?

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