Often, when we are talking about community enhancements – government-speak for recreation and beautification projects that seem to somehow get labelled by the public as wasteful spending – we forget what they really mean. Jobs.
Well, actually, not the jobs themselves. The workers.
Ask any business owner in Douglas or Glenrock these days (just about anywhere else in small town America) and you will hear the same story: they have the jobs, just not enough workers to fill vacant positions.
Part of the problem in small town USA is the lack of the very amenities and opportunities that Millennials and Generation Z have come to expect from where they live and work. They want accessible gyms, parks, bike paths, late-night restaurants, a vibrant social scene, community activities that provide frequent distractions from the craziness around them. We think they can get it here. They don’t believe it when we argue about the need for recreation, decry spending public money on anything but water/sewer lines and street repairs (as important as those things are), or refuse to see value in soccer fields, baseball diamonds, hockey rinks or skate parks beyond “benefitting a few kids.”
Thus, businesses who need employees are finding it harder and harder to attract employees and their families to places which do not have those amenities and services at the ready. And their customers suffer, all the while complaining about the service even as they refuse to acknowledge that their lack of support may be part of the problem.
So, today, we continue to watch it all – the ongoing discussions about recreation needs (and the lack thereof) in our community, the city’s efforts to enhance city parks and walkways with winter-use facilities and the overall ideas floated to beautify our community – with an eye toward a bigger goal: If we can do some or all of that, will it help businesses attract a workforce that we so desperately need right now?
We think it will.
That growing workforce, in turn, would fill vacant rental housing, bolster our restaurants and stores, shore up lagging sales tax revenues which pay for government services and provide the money to do even more to improve our quality of life. It’s a win-win, or could be if we do something more than just talk about it.
In reality, the discussions about adding gyms and outdoor recreation began because of a pressing need for more space immediately, but the longer term benefits are the more imperative reasons the business community, city, county, school district, recreation district and public should be pushing for this efforts to get done sooner rather than once again unfairly criticizing them as wasteful government spending.