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Institutional memory

by   JUDY HODGSON

Reading the Times-Standard's editorials over the years has been a challenge. When it was owned by the Thompson chain and operated by Publisher Jerry Colby, who retired in the mid '90s, pretty much everything that was good for business and industry got a thumbs up. The newspaper never saw a development it didn't like. The editorials may have infuriated you, but at least they were consistent.

Since its purchase in 1996 by MediaNews there have been four or five different publishers and possibly as many editors, each with a learning curve. The editorials became more erratic but less tied to industry especially the last few years. (That change was largely due to the influence of the late David Anderson, a veteran reporter who sat on the paper's editorial board. David died in January.)

High turnover, unfortunately, results in gaps in institutional memory, which is the only explanation for last Saturday's editorial, "More changes for the North Coast."

The editorial makes some interesting observations by comparing Humboldt County's economic base with Fort Bragg and Crescent City. But then it goes on to say, "Humboldt Bay and Eureka/Arcata/McKinleyville triplex ... three great names ... one great community ... In this time of change, there's a great need to work together" toward an economic development vision in light of the decline in the timber and fishing industries. "Groups meet and talk, but not much happens. ... Perhaps it's time for some sort of regional organization ... a group that represents the triplex and works to get everyone on the same page."

Actually, a great deal is happening and it started in 1989 with the formation of the Humboldt County Economic Development Forum, a 120-member group made up of all those working in economic development, employment development, social services, plus business owners and community leaders. The forum analyzed economic development strategies and commissioned the report, "What Businesses Make Sense in Humboldt County," also known as the Mountain West Study. The forum continues to meet quarterly.

In 1998 an outreach effort coordinated by the newly created Institute for the North Coast was begun. It involved more than 200 local businesses, 300 nonprofit organizations and a multitude of agencies. The result is a document called "Prosperity! a North Coast Strategy," which was adopted by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors as its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy. (See Journal cover story of Sept. 7, 2000, "What's the plan, Humboldt?")

"Prosperity" is more than another dust-catching report. It summarizes key findings on the economy, the environment and the people. It defines what we call the quality of life, why we live here and how to preserve that quality. And it sets out a working model for appropriate economic development based on commonly held beliefs, such as the need to grow and support our nine base industry clusters &nbsplumber, education, tourism, dairy, manufacturing, fisheries, agriculture, arts and culture, and information technology and the need to encourage small owner-resident businesses.

The forum continues to meet and the Prosperity! effort is moving soon into phase two which will more directly involve the larger cities Arcata, Eureka and Fortuna. The cities will be asked to formally adopt the strategy along with specific goals that are unique to their municipalities. Phase two is being coordinated by the 19-member Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, a key player with representatives from all the seven cities and the county.

Why all these efforts are not more visible, that they don't often make the news, is that generally speaking, conflict makes news the financial woes of the Arcata Economic Development Corp. and the city of Arcata, for instance. But economic development coordination is happening nonetheless.

 


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