Stop the Presses: Quid pro quo economics

Today the Galesburg community is facing a critical challenge to revive our local economy in manner that will make an attractive future for our town possible. We need to create or attract sufficient numbers of new jobs to not only sustain our present population but make the Galesburg area attractive to the best and brightest of our children to one day return and raise their own families here. It is up to all of us to make sure this happens. This includes elected officials, public employees, existing businesspeople and those we task with economic development responsibilities.

What we need is neither a short-term fix nor more empty promises of what might be or almost was. We need an array of employers that pay good wages, offer attractive benefits and participate in the building of this community. Subsistence level jobs are merely a holding action and ultimately a drag on the economy. They can't all be blue collar jobs nor low-level white collar jobs. They must be jobs that permit us to raise our kids, support our community, own a home and afford an education for our kids.

I truly believe that the bulk of our residents understand this all too well. They are understandably upset at the loss of Maytag, Butler, Gates etc. We have seen more than a quarter century of attempting to sell this area to potential new employers through incentive packages, tax breaks, sweetheart deals and an unspoken complicity in breaking the backs of local unions has only worked to lose union jobs and tax dollars. Eric Voyles and his merry band at the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association (GREDA) have devoted years to what has become a tiresome tap dance and magic act with absolutely no accountability. Any private employer would have fired Eric and GREDA long ago for failure to deliver yet our local elected officials continue to invest all of our local economic development resources in this single black hole.

Most recently the leadership of GREDA has worked tenaciously behind the scenes to convince every local elected official on the county board, Galesburg city council, school board, Carl Sandburg College board and Sanitary District that it would be akin to treason to support Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri's lawsuit against Maytag. There is no question that Maytag owes at least $94,000 in unpaid property taxes to School District 205 and many agree with Mangieri that the company owes over a million dollars more. But the folks from GREDA counter that this lawsuit "sends the wrong message to prospective new businesses" they are laboring to attract. In fact, they have privately told anyone who would listen that they are sooooo close to bringing a new business to town that such action could kill the deal!

The fact that GREDA and its predecessor groups have whistled the same tune for decades without producing a single significant success seems lost on these elected officials-- but not on the average Joe citizen. While the elected officials have been successfully cowed by GREDA many an average citizen is boiling hot to see the Mangieri lawsuit die on the vine. As Mangieri himself said, the behavior of GREDA and the elected bodies just goes to show that there are different standards applied to the privileged from those we mere mortals must abide. All this from a GREDA song and dance without substance! OK, the die has been cast and we must live with it but let us learn something from the bitter experience.

Years ago and in a very different context then-president Ronald Reagan said that in dealing with the former Soviet Union you must "trust but verify." What Reagan meant of course was that it was essential for the two super-powers to engage in meaningful arms reductions talks despite fears on each side that the other might take seize the advantage. Like the many old hawks who saw a commie behind every tree I don't trust GREDA. I believe they have merely committed serial fraud on the citizens of Galesburg and Knox County. Over the years they repeatedly concocted stories of two or three businesses that were so close to coming to the area-- none of which ever materialized. Of course, they never accounted for what went wrong because everything is always and forever more a huge secret. Extremely convenient but preposterous.

The time has come to hold GREDA accountable in the only way they will respect, an ultimatum. They either put up or lose continued funding. We can adopt the Reagan posture of trust but verify. Let them keep their secrets up until their prospects decide not to come to Galesburg. Once this decision is made there is no more reason for secrecy and GREDA should tell us who the prospect was, why they declined to locate here and where they ultimately went. If by the next time GREDA is due again for public funding and they cannot be forthcoming with such detailed post hoc results the funding should be pulled. If GREDA and Voyles cannot present a credible account of what didn't happen and why (naming names) then both should be fired.