The Strategy, Part 5
July 16, 2010 3:31 PM
Don't discount the funkiness factor.
All this week I've been blogging about what I believe should be our response to the Great Recession. Today, I'd like to finish this series with some observations on home grown, uniquely Madison economic development.
One of Madison's most original entrepreneurs, Chris Berge, has a funky idea. The successful restaurateur wants to put a cafe on a bike path to serve only the users of the path. No access to it by cars. He's been talking to me about it for years, and I always politely point out what I consider to be the practical issues, not the least of which will be neighbors concerned about noise and other issues. But he's more serious than ever, and he recently floated the idea in the press. Good for Chris. The attitude of the city is and should be let's see if we can make this work. If we can't figure out the practical concerns, well, ok, but let's not kill the idea from the start.
That's in contrast with what is too often perceived as an attitude of resistance. Here's another example. A new business going in on Martin Luther King Boulevard needed to put a couple of stair steps into the public right of way in order to serve an outdoor seating area. The original response from city hall was headed toward negative when I asked our city staff to find a way to make it work instead. It got done. Now what we'll have is an entire block facing one of our most important downtown streets that in summer is enlivened with activity. And we've got a new businesses employing dozens of people. All for the cost of two steps in the right of way. Seems to me to be worth it.
Aside from all kinds of creative ideas flowing from small scale entrepreneurs, there are also, of course, the potentially big ideas being hatched and nurtured at places like the UW Research Park, the BioAg Gateway and in the labs at the university.
Madison is full of creative people with sometimes off beat ideas. Very often these ideas won't work out, but sometimes they will and with wonderful outcomes. They aren't just playing around, they're often creating real businesses that employ people and create wealth.
The roll of Madison city government should be to work with them, encourage them and see where their creativity leads.
There is a great bumper sticker out in Texas that reads "Keep Austin Weird." I'm jealous that our Texas cousin beat us to the punch with that one because it fits Madison perfectly.
This is the last in my series on our response to the recession. To sum up, I believe we should support a new and large federal stimulus bill, we should realize that now is the time to make capital investments locally but to carefully trim annual spending in the operating budget, we should reform our processes to make them more democratic, transparent, accountable, predictable and expeditious and we should encourage creative entrepreneurship.
If we do all that then I'm convinced we'll come out of the Great Recession as a greater city with a stronger and more sustainable local economy.