Issues Facing Ashland #2

Tourism can’t sustain our community any longer.  COVID-19 is our wake up call.   We need a new model for our economic base or we aren’t going to have much of a future.   The difference between tourism and a diversified economic base means with diversity we go into the future with a business infrastructure that can be lasting.  Our city leaders know that we need to face the fact that we MUST diversify our economic base to go beyond tourism.  As we all know tourism is not a sustainable economic base.

Stromberg has “talked about diversifying” our economic base for 12 years, but has done nothing.  We have seen very little change in our business infrastructure.  It is still tourism.  When the smoke comes; when the pandemics come; we are up the creek without a paddle because we remain dependent on tourism.  He has failed to move us in any direction other than to maintain the status quo.

Dr. Richard Holt, SOU Professor in Economics, wrote a book, Local Economic Development in the 21st Century: Quality of Life and Sustainability co-authored with Daphne Greenwood.  It is worth reading.  He wrote it with Ashland in mind.  Without going into too much detail, the one important action we can take is to provide support and recognition to those businesses that are stable and want to grow.  There are dozens of businesses like this in Ashland.  Most of us couldn’t name them.  Our mayor and council need to assist these businesses to grow.  This is not the Chamber of Commerce’s responsibility, this is the responsibility of the mayor to take the lead in this effort.  And there is money for it.   The city council has spent at least $180,000/year for the last 12 years on economic development that went to support a city staff position and the chamber.  The result has been more tourism.  This must change.

The second idea from this book is to have the city lure developing companies to Ashland.  At present, there are dozens of Santa Clara, Palo Alto businesses that want to move out of the city, now that they know they can work from home successfully.  They want a rural setting where they can have very modest main offices without the huge expense of real estate in the South Bay.  Ashland’s mayor should be on the phone with many of the CEOs of these companies inviting them to our city wherein we have world class theater, a local university, outdoor sports in abundance, 5 star restaurants, and much more.  Why aren’t we actively recruiting these businesses to our community?  If he is luring businesses to Ashland, then tell us about it.

Finally, the mayor can’t do this alone.  A blue ribbon committee for economic development needs to be a committee that we citizens can feed input to and get reports from.  We have an ample number of economic gurus and just ordinary citizens to make up such a blue ribbon committee.  Transparency and communication about what is happening with such a mayoral effort and committee work needs to be created.   Diversifying our economic base beyond tourism is not only in our best interest, it is the only way Ashland will survive.

Carol Voisin, Ashland