I’ve seen plenty of smart things when it comes to economic matters, but I’ve also seen plenty of dumb things. Some occur at the State Capitol, some within communities, and some within individual economic development projects. I’m not referring to people’s intellect; in fact, many are highly qualified. The problem, in my opinion, is the lack of integration of knowledge and ideas. There’s a term for this, it’s called the “silo effect.”
Picture driving in a rural farming area and seeing a bunch of individual grain silos on various farms. They’re doing what they’re supposed to, keeping the contents separate from the elements and preparing for distribution. This is what I see happening among many of the economic development and public policy groups. In their opinion (and of course supported by their own research) their silo is the most important thing when it comes to advancing economic prosperity.
This doesn’t apply to everybody, but does apply to a modest majority. Some tax cut advocates believe we are just one rate reduction shy of massive economic growth. Many economic developers believe if they had one more tool in the toolbox they would locate many more businesses. A majority of education advocates believe more spending is the key to prosperity. This goes on and on and on…
In reality, everybody is right that their area of expertise and recent research would have a positive impact on economic growth, if coordination occurs (impacts related to limited resources will be addressed in a later blog). When discussed in a silo, the conversation spirals downward into recommendations that can’t (and shouldn’t) be implemented.
Now picture a sequence of silos that you might see on a larger farming operation. Several are lined up and linked for filling and distribution. This is what we need. We need connectivity of ideas. Policymakers need to become better versed in the vast array of things that make an economy tick, and not just the points that came in their political party’s book of dogma. Economic developers, planners, policy advisors, etc. also need to become better versed in what drives economic prosperity. A person can be an expert in one area but also knowledgeable in many others.
This isn’t a universal flaw. Integration is happening. Data producers are trying to better understand what data users need, and vice versa. The state has become efficient in bringing marketing of assets into the growth equation. Economic developers are making recommendations on refining the tools in the toolbox and will be working on a sound business case if anything new is to be proposed. People generally understand that we need to do a lot of things well, from having a competitive tax code, to efficient and responsible economic development programs, to effective workforce training programs, to regulatory reform, among others. Improvements are still needed in all of these areas and can happen with thought and coordination.
But, at least once a month I still see a complete breakdown in this “best practices” approach to growing the economy among people that should know better. No one person can be an expert in everything, but a group of experts, if egos are checked at the door, can move the needle. Coordination is only one aspect of the discussion. The other, balancing the recommendations in a world of limited resources, will be the subject of a following blog.
Author’s note: If there is a particular economic or policy issue you would like covered in a later publication feel free to send your ideas and/or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.