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Defining Pro-Business News PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Local News
Wednesday, 28 February 2007 02:33

Reader issue #622 Welcome to the first official Reader "Business Issue." While we are keenly aware of our own 13-year record of covering business issues important to the community, it's no secret that the Reader is often (especially among our Davenport-based critics and competitors) dismissed as "anti-business" or "anti-growth" "againsters."

So if our coverage is "anti-business," what would "pro-business" coverage look like?

The Reader is well-known as the exhaustive and authoritative guide to all "things going on" in the Quad Cities region. Ask most folks why they pick us up, and the majority will say, "If I want to find something to do or learn what's new in the area, I get the Reader." We're happy to provide that valuable service for our more than 40,000 readers. It's a big part of why the Reader isn't recycled 20 minutes after being picked up, and is also why our advertisers that help make this publication possible get consistent results from our loyal readers. Thus, the labels "entertainment rag" or "arts paper" or "events guide" are easy to accept when there is a need to pigeonhole the Reader's weekly content. And believe me: Among the dozens of Quad Cities media outlets vying for dwindling audience share and precious ad dollars, there is a definite need on their part to pigeonhole the Reader.

The Reader has developed and published hundreds of stories related to the business community with the same passion that it has for the arts and culture community. In fact, from 1993 to 2003 cover stories have had a business or economy theme 18 percent of the time, with arts- and culture-themed cover stories coming in second place at 16 percent. Government- and politics-themed stories were third with 13 percent.

Our business and economy coverage has included predatory lending; city economic-development controversies such as 53rd and Eastern; the Moline public library; casino expansion plans; downtown development; suburban, rural, and urban housing developments; mass transit; utilities; telecommunications; workforce attraction and retention; historic tax credits; business organizations such as DavenportOne, the Illinois Quad City Chamber of Commerce, and the Quad City Development Group; public television; energy; and the environment.

So, if you have been following the Reader's business coverage over the past 13 years, you know our 1,000-word-plus articles all have a point of view informed by reporting that strives to give the reader a thorough and thoughtful discovery of each topic's pros and cons and - whenever possible - a voice to both fans and critics. And readers certainly aren't looking to the Reader for the ubiquitous "business profile" or "feature story" that was so obviously published because of the display ad from the same company on the same or adjacent page.

We refer to this style of "journalism" as "advertorial," while others refer to it as "good news"-style reporting. So, what's wrong with this "good news" approach to reporting? Everything, if you claim to provide anything close to journalism or news. Everything, if there is a desire to elevate our community above mediocrity and near-zero population growth. The "good news" model buffers a perception but does not necessarily support a reality. When the Reader raises questions and discusses shortcomings, it is with an intent to improve our community and exploring alternatives.

Recently a friend of mine commented that this community's narrow focus on big companies for hundreds of jobs to fuel growth is misguided. I refer to this as the "silver bullet" syndrome. Get enough big wins under your belt and the rest will follow. Never mind what communities have to forsake in order to get that factory or call center. Just get the jobs; any growth is good growth.

If being skeptical of this model is "anti-business," then we need more "anti-business" minds running things around here. But back to my friend's solution to the "silver bullet" malaise: "The Quad Cities' cost of living and access to resources makes it a great place to fail," he said. "This should be the easiest place in the Midwest to open and run a small business, one that serves not only the region, but the world. It should be an entrepreneur's oasis." This approach has a lot of merit. With smaller startups, existing infrastructures are re-purposed and natural resources are conserved. Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City are too expensive; the Quad Cities is a perfect alternative for entrepreneurs.

Granted, any strategy for growth needs to have a balanced mix of prospects, big and small. Unfortunately a top-heavy focus on big-ticket job creation too often relies on dwindling and precious public and natural resources and attracts employers interested in maximizing profits at someone else's expense rather than by raising the bar through innovation. But this approach requires a long view rather than the short-sighted view that has to-date defined what this community considers growth.

If you are new to the Reader because this is our "Business Issue," we thank you for including the Reader as part of your media diet this week. We hope you continue to find useful information in these pages every week, however you define "pro-business." Read the Reader's editorial coverage of community issues for four weeks, and I am confident you will find the Reader a valuable resource for more reasons than you thought possible.

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written by Ryan Orr, March 06, 2007
Although I have not been a dedicated reader of the Reader, I have never seen criticism as "anti-business". What people need to understand is that criticism is often a great way for businesses to understand their weaknesses and improve on them. Since a business can never objectively look at itself, it should rely on the feedback of clients and the community to identify and solve problems or expand and grow.

I agree that the silver bullet theory has gone on too long here. Having grown up in this market during the 80's, I saw what putting your eggs in one basket can do. Manufacturing was not kind to us then, and still is not the only solution to bringing in professional jobs and market growth. I also think that one of the biggest oversights in this community is the lack of development and diversity of professional white-collar jobs. If you look at markets like Des Moines, you see a lot of white-collar office buildings, such as those for insurance, finance, and technology. A lot of that doesn't exist here. You don't see large "corporate" parks with beautiful office buildings, fountains, and a waiting list for occupants. The idea of a "corporate" office park here is putting up a series Butler-style light industrial buildings and slapping a sign on the fronts. And a new medical park doesn't count either!

That said, I am not bashing industrial or manufacturing. They are a vital part of any economy, and many other professional businesses rely on the products they make. However, when industry is not doing well, there are a lot of people faced with unemployment and nowhere to go. In a lot of cases, their solution is to move away entirely.

Finally, another aspect is one of age. The Q-C is not seen as a young market, nor is it. We have at least two groups in the Q-C, Next and YPN, dedicated to retaining and attracting young people. While this is a great and much needed effort, if there are no professional jobs for people, how can they afford to live here? Getting people to live and stay here is ultimately the factor that will dictate whether the Q-C will need to find new sources of employment, whether startup or large corporation, in the first place.

After all, if there are no people, who needs a job?
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written by Dan Foley, March 06, 2007
Mr. Orr's comment touches on two problems that our area faces: lack of white-collar jobs and trouble retaining young people. These are problems, that, at this point, are widely recognized. The real question is: what are the solutions? The articles in this business issue focus on a couple potential solutions, such as stressing incremental improvements, and focusing on small businesses for job creation. I'm sure there are more. I'd like to hear less discussion on what our area's problems are (I think we have a consensus on most of them), and more discussion on what can be done to address them.
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written by Ryan Orr, March 07, 2007
I completely agree with Dan. We can argue until we're blue in the face, but solutions have to be found. Carrying them out, however, is my biggest gripe. I think that there are two easy solutions to this. One involves pride and the other involves actions.

I think that a lot of people around town need an attitude adjustment, and I don't mean that in a bad way. They have seen what poorly executed campaigns and greedy developers have done to areas like downtown Davenport. People here need to be able to TRUST their elected officials and BELIEVE in their efforts. On the other hand, developers, committees, and elected officials actually need to DO something.

I also think that people need to start caring about themselves too. Doing little things, such as picking up litter and sweeping the sidewalk or mowing a vacant lot shows the most important aspect of a community: pride. I think people need to start being proud of the Quad Cities again. I am, and it has to start somewhere. Every single person in the Q-C can do one item, big or small, that improves it. We need to quit settling for whatever comes our way, and aim a little higher. When is the last time people in the Q-C were reminded of this? Perhaps we need to market the Q-C to Q-C people. Would anyone like to develop a new campaign?

Some of our elected officials need to quit farting around. We are in the current situation because we haven't enacted on good decisions and have invested in some poor ones. We also need to quit doing things halfway and then not finishing it. I cannot tell you how immensely frustrated I am when a project sits for an eternity - wasting money and effort - at the expense of focusing elsewhere. Deadlines need to be set and people helf accountable. Things should not be swept under the rug. The focus needs to shift to businesses that are more legitimate and produce tax revenue consistently year-round - not those who "dangle the carrot" or threaten to float away.

On a business side, I think we need to approach more businesses like Lee Enterprises, who can provide professional careers outside of working in medicine or manufacturing, to assist in attracting other similar (but not competing) venues. It would be wonderful to have more new buildings like theirs downtown and elsewhere.

Finally, another solution is providing support for promoting and unifying a lot of the volunteer, community service, and non-profit organizations, like Friends Of Off-Road Cycling (F.O.R.C.), to people in the Q-C. F.O.R.C., which I am also am member of, is currently building multi-use trails at Davenport's Sunderbruch park, and other areas in the Q-C for free and on their own time. Why? So that people in the Q-C can have a place to ride mountain bikes or enjoy in the outdoors. It's these groups that are the implementers, the "go-getters" who enact on what they propose and provide venues and options for people that are often overlooked in large developments or retail corridor projects. Having a place to exercise or unwind makes our quality of life much, much better.

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