Bite Your Tongue And Thank Your Blessed Governments Too
Written by Michael Lewis on November 25, 2010
By Michael Lewis
With so much to be glad of at Thanksgiving, we take too much for granted. We should catalog our bounty and review the list all year long.
At newspapers, we’re so focused on recording what went wrong that we forget all that’s going right. Pleas to improve should always be tempered by our blessings.
Therefore, over Thanksgiving turkey, Miami Today gives thanks for the pending return to Miami of another bird, the one most important to our economy: the crane.
We reported on our front page last week that Tibor Hollo plans to begin developing a 35-story mixed-use tower in the Omni area in January or February.
Such news was so routine a few years back that it wouldn’t have merited the front page. We might have covered several such projects in a week.
But it’s not a few years ago. We’ve weathered a devastating recession — you might have noticed — when Miami’s national bird, the construction crane, flew off, taking with it construction jobs, spinoff economic gains and the infrastructure that construction adds as a long-term job generator.
As of September, this county had 33,100 vital construction jobs. The figure peaked at 56,200 in September 2007 — a three-year loss of 41%.
That 23,100-job loss in construction is a seventh of Miami-Dade’s 13.1% unemployment. Reviving building could take a big bite out of the unemployment bear.
Other fields have also been hurt, of course, making more crucial the nascent community-wide effort the Beacon Council is spearheading to add the most likely quality jobs for our future. That One Community One Goal drive is worthy of careful attention.
One field that remained strong in the face of the downturn was government work, where 151,000 jobs in September were almost 14% of the county’s total. While construction jobs were declining 41% over three years, government jobs fell 6,500, just 4%, despite governments claiming austerity budgets as they raised taxes — about 15% at Miami-Dade County Hall alone.
In fact, governments’ spending might even have kept construction employment from tumbling a bit farther.
The Florida Marlins stadium the county funded at about $3 billion overall has produced several hundred continuous jobs, more than half going to Miami-Dade workers.
On the negative side of this blessing is that at almost $30 million spent per temporary local construction job, the stadium job-creation program that Mayor Carlos Alvarez had touted as many thousands of jobs missed the mark for efficient resource allocation — a blessing we’ve yet to count at county hall.
Government investments of our blessings to create jobs, in fact, often aren’t blessed events.
The county targets $20 million in other bond money — again, to be augmented by the interest we’ll pay to use money we don’t have today — to build a 300-seat replacement for the dormant 83-year-old, far larger, two-stage Coconut Grove Playhouse. At $67,000 per seat, how long will payback on that investment take?
Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agencies, meanwhile, last week received city OK to buy a $3.1 million building the schools are using for storage and make it a soundstage for films, though the film industry lists multiple reasons the spot will miss a very valid job-creation target.
Those reasons range from the noise from adjacent railroad tracks to ceilings far too low for filming — meaning we couldn’t lure the jobs that the money is meant to create.
We can certainly thank governments large and small for trying to engineer job creation. But the private investments of Mr. Hollo and others whose projects are soon to be announced thankfully will go much farther, much more efficiently, to create jobs and revitalize the economy.
The Beacon Council is on the right track by systematically assessing where we can get the best bang for our job-creation bucks. The council targets the plan to be not only completed but part of a functioning economic engine in just over a year, and we can certainly give thanks for that.
With all our positives, however, we can’t help but note that we might be much farther ahead if local government wasn’t being quite so helpful in expending taxpayers’ resources on questionable projects.