Bridge Building, Chamber Style

According to Chapel Hill News Editor, Mark Schultz, Chamber of Commerce Director Aaron Nelson told him that our community is “a place where many people still think if you're a successful business person you're exploiting someone or destroying the environment.” (quote is Schultz paraphrasing Nelson)

Now, according to the Herald editors, I'm the farthest left person they know (a debatable point I suppose) and I don't think that. Nor am I aware of any who hold this belief.

So my question to Aaron is: do you really believe what you said to Schultz? if so, who are some of these "many people" you refer to? Or, did you, like Ed Harrison, inadvertently mislead Schultz and it's not your fault?

My question to Chamber members is: does it really serve your interests and your organization when your director makes such hyperbolic and divisive statements?

Contrary to the myth promulgated by the anti-environmental right, business can be successful and also be socially responsible and good stewards of the earth. The environmental movement has long understood this. It's time the Chamber figured it out as well. Unfortunately, in our community, the Chamber director is the only one voicing the opposing perspective.



It will be very interesting to see how the local Chamber expresses itself on the potential Wal-Mart siting.

Certainly many of the Chamber's members are small, local businesses who are rooted in the community and contribute to a sustainable culture in many ways. But there are also members of the Chamber who are more loyal to the greater corporate economy which siphons money out of local circulation and for whom more growth is almost always good growth.

This issue has the potential to be the first one where the Chamber has an opportunity to take an actual stand on "sustainability" issues on which they have focused so much PR energy in the form of a committee, a report, and some workshops.

Will the Chamber speak out in defense of community-based economics, living wages, and overall local business sustainability? Or will it somehow bend its definition of sustainabilty to include support for a big outside mega-corporation that has a track record of negatively affecting local business communities?

"a place where many people still think if you're a successful business person you're exploiting someone or destroying the environment." I will admit that I think there are a lot of successful business people operating in this community who care more about their personal profits than they care about the environment or the long-term viability (sustainability) of this community. But I certainly don't believe that of all business people. Lumping all business people together is as fallacious as lumping all environmentalists together.

I would like to see our Chamber draw a distinction between businesses that are socially responsible and economically successful and businesses that exploit the environment and workers. TIAA-CREF gives me the option of investing my money in socially responsible businesses. Perhaps the Chamber could do the same--which local businesses are dedicated to providing living wages and other worker protections? Which are investing in environmentally sound practices, from using halogen lighting and/or biofuels to following stormwater BMPs? Can we create "green" competition among our local businesses?

Dan, don't you think someone might draw this conclusion from this comment by you?

"...low pay for workers is widespread as a fundamental precept of capitalist enterprise..."

I mean, fundamental precept? Sounds like you think there's a lot of exploitation going on.

Yes, there's a whole lot of expoitation going on. This does not refute the point, made with some clarity by Mark M above, that the petit-bourgeois (if you'll pardon that quaint expression) often run their businesses quite differently from "captains of industry." The smartest amongst us can respond to competition with innovation rather than the captains more typical response of cutting wages and increasing externalities.

Consider, for example, Weaver Street Market's response to the arrival of Whole Foods in Chapel HIll (also in today's paper). WSM looked at how to make the business more strongly rooted in the community and more responsive to its customers. Hence, it flourishes. WSM is in part worker-owned. Whole Foods is a somewhat notorious union-buster.

Small business are also capital enterprises. If you did not mean all businesses, it was not clearly stated. In fact, it could be said to be hyperbolic and divisive.

Terri asks: Perhaps the Chamber could do the same–which local businesses are dedicated to providing living wages and other worker protections? Which are investing in environmentally sound practices, from using halogen lighting and/or biofuels to following stormwater BMPs? Can we create “green” competition among our local businesses?

Mark asks: Will the Chamber speak out in defense of community-based economics, living wages, and overall local business sustainability? Or will it somehow bend its definition of sustainabilty to include support for a big outside mega-corporation that has a track record of negatively affecting local business communities?

I think these are both excellent questions, but although rhetorically it might be useful to raise them about the Chamber of Commerce, ultimately 'they is us'. Typically the chamber of commerce, here and most everywhere else, folds small businesses into a pro-growth, pro-business consensus not defined by our priorities. I don't mean to sound too cynical, but of their five mission points:
* Economic opportunity for all;
* Aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound community;
* Quality school and educational programs;
* Proactive management of urban livability issues (i.e. traffic congestion and sprawl); and
* The existence of a large, dynamic and diverse tax base.

Doesn't it seem likely the last one will trump the others?

It will probably fall to citizens outside the Chamber to define meaningful standards of commitment to the community, living wage, environmental sustainability, and then to research local businesses (as well as other institutions, like, say, universities) and see who is acting in ways that should be supported and who is not. I think this would be a great research project, with a website to display such info. People have had some success monitoring companies' outsourced production around the world, so why not locally? It would also be great to define clear standards and challenge the Chamber to participate in encouraging a 'race to the top' for local businesses on these issues.

I think, Ed, that you are confusing private ownership with capitalist ownership. For two centuries now, petty bourgeois (shop-keeper) enterprise has been held as distinct from bourgeois capitalism, the latter based "on the exploitation of the many by the few," whereby labor and property are organized for one purpose, to increase capital.

Capitalist enterprise is subject to the 'grow or die' imperative. Petty bourgeois is not. Thus, Suttons can exist in a fairly constant (sustainable!) form for decades. Eckerd, CVS, and Kerr, must grow, attempting to drive out the Suttons of the world and consume one another. Yes, there's a big difference.

Small detail - halogen lights are super-hot (require more AC) and use lots of energy compared to compact fluourescents (which burn the coolest of all).


OK--so I meant the compact flourescents. Picky picky picky.

Ed Neely's point is not the digression that it might seem. For example, Marx considered the petty bourgeois to be a conservative force, concerned mainly with its own survival, that mistakenly allied itself with the bourgeoisie, the latter being hell-bent on the eradication of the former.

Similarly, our Chamber of Commerce by allowing major roles to giant public utilities, huge banking operations, state agencies and the like provides the relevance of Mark's point about the Chamber's stance on Walmart. Can the Chamber ever oppose a business venture regardless of how inimical it might be to many of its smaller, locally based members?

Perhaps this leads to the trap that Aaron Nelson has fallen into: to defend the prerogatives of capital of the scale of Duke Power and Bank of America (for example) he must mischaracterize the situation on the ground in our community, a community in which a majority of his membership stands in economic interdependency with the environmentalists and social justice-minded whom Nelson derides.

Dan, I don't think my point was a digression at all. It spoke to the heart of your original post about Aaron Nelson's alleged comments. And I don't agree with your distinction about small vs. large businesses. It's a cliche to say that only large companies are de-humanizing. I've worked for small businesses that treated their employess very well, and others that underpaid their employees and made ridiculous demands on them. But large or small, and in spite of any differences you perceive, they are still all capitalist enterpises. I think it is you who are confused about the nature of capitalism, Dan.

Let me insert an intellectual break here...

Progressives do a lousy job getting their economic message across. I find it unfortunate that Aaron Nelson feels vilified by the local progressive community.

Intellectual debates are great, but it would be an even greater thing if progressives could get their message out about economic development. Until then, people will read columns like Scott Maitland's in today's CHN ( and find his point of view believable.

Let's face it, all most people know is that commercial and industrial development doesn't happen in Orange County; they also know that progressives are vocal about social justice and protecting the environment. Put these two together, and it's easy to see why the conservative ‘take' on economic development rings true here (“a place where many people still think if you're a successful business person you're exploiting someone or destroying the environment.”)

Also, I hope the Chamber doesn't think that this community's ‘if you don't build it, they won't come' mentality is anti-business. I think this mentality is anti-change, not anti-business per se.

Terri--the problem with thinking through Orange County's economic development is that Orange County is an archaic boundary that has little to do with economic realities. We live in an economic region, the Triangle, that has no political corollary. Chapel Hill is, from an economic standpoint, doubly blessed--it has a flagship university (usually considered a dream item of economic development, given its stability and many well paying jobs associated with it--expansion plans are also typically considered good economic news); it is a pretty town that serves as a suburb for many people who work in RTP or Raleigh. Furthermore, it has unofficially decided to make little room for the poor people who do much of the work around here. Like any metro region, ours has plenty of poor people--they are pushed into places like Durham, which has to shoulder a disproportionate share of paying for their social services needs, since places like Chapel Hill pay virtually nothing. Chapel Hill has also decided to not develop big
box stores or new shopping malls within its boundaries. This is not an unreasonable decision, given the traffic etc issues associated with both. Yet its consumption habits are probably about the same as most upper middle class towns in the US. So there is a certain rough justice to Durham building up its tax base by drawing Chapel HIll shoppers across city/county boundaries. I have no idea how to move beyond the impasse you create with one economic region divided into at least three counties and five municipalities. I remember about fifteen years ago their was some discussion in the urban development literature about the need to redraw boundaries to include suburbs in metro areas. I'm not sure what became of that goal, but our region is a much more extreme version of what was being discussed in the first place.
I agree with most of your goals for economic development , although I don't think you can really have a goal of never threatening existing small business. Businesses aren't museum relics to be preserved in amber. It would make more sense for the county to develop resources that faciliate small businesses survival rather than simply trying to avoid competition (else why doesn't the competition just set up in Durham or Chatham?). I also like the idea of policies that foster the growth of locally owned businesses, although it should be said that new business aren't always the best place to see things like living wage and benefits. I'd also put a shout out for town -owned enterprises that put the profits right back into the community--Mark, why doesn't Carrboro just open a little hotel? The usual problem with government owned businesses is the potential for corruption and control of the market, but in a multicentered region like ours, this isn't really a serious concern. A related concern is encouraging businesses to buy local--again, I can't really see why 'local' wouldn't include Raleigh and Durham. Successful economic regions often work with the local business community to identify things like shifts in supply and demand, opportunity for local businesses to support each other, etc. It isn't exactly a goal of economic development, but clearely a meaningful discussion would have to include a much broader variety of people than what we see in this thread.

Why not wait and verify what Aaron Nelson actually said, before getting into a lather about it.

Also, As a father of three, I have no problem finding Scott Maitland's comments in today's CHN believable.

Mary--do you think progressives have an economic message to get across? I'm still trying to figure out what a progressive is, so the "petty bourgeois" vs "bourgeoisie" discussion is way over my head. What I do know is that a lot of folks in this community act against their own economic self interest and our elected officials don't really help curb that behavior. If you shop outside of the county, your sales tax goes to that other county. Since we have no shopping here, we don't get sales tax from outside. Therefore our property taxes are higher. And yet, we all go to Durham to shop at the Walmart or the Target--an act that appears to be a money saver but the revenue lost by Roses or other local businesses will eventually factor into the higher property tax equation. Its a circular problem that needs to stop immediately.

I don't want Walmart here for a whole slew of reasons. But I do want our elected officials and our town staffs to get off their duffs and come up with an economic development plan that is consistent with the demographics, history, and, dare I say values, of Orange County.

issues (are those the same as progressive issues)?

Regarding "exploiting . . . destroying":

Hang on, there.
Schultz specifically said in his article that those were NOT Aaron Nelson's words --- that he was paraphrasing.

Terri Buckner wrote:

But I do want our elected officials and our town staffs to get off their duffs and come up with an economic development plan that is consistent with the demographics, history, and, dare I say values, of Orange County.

Terri, the Orange County Economic Development Commission has developed a strategic plan that was recently approved by the Orange County Commissioners. I could be mistaken, but most of the Orange County Commissioners consider themselves to be "progressive". I *assume* they would not have approved a strategic plan that was non-"progressive".

Regarding Scott Maitland's well thought column about leaf blowers and the unintended consequences of "killing commercial development in Chapel Hill", it reminds me of another column written by John Hood:

Enough, already. City governments exist to perform basic public functions that cannot be performed by the residents themselves or in voluntary commerce, neighborhoods, and associations. They do not exist to develop land, decide a community's industry mix, take money from movie-lovers to give to sports-lovers, or plan our lives for us. Otherwise, every "solution" will become another problem, the solving of which will cost us more money and more freedom.

I think of progressive economics as a pretty straightforward proposition. Given that the nature of "nonprogressive" economics is to increase inequality, decrease opportunities for self-reliance and mutual aid, and prioritize the (profitable) luxuries of the wealthy over the (less so profitable) necessities of the poor and working/middle classes, then progressive economics entail efforts to decrease inequality, increase opportunities for self-reliance and mutual aid, and place priority on the basic necessities of the poor and working/middle classes. Progressive economics will be consistent with other progressive principles such as environmental responsibility, human rights, civil liberties, anti-discrimination, etc. Of course, since the progressive movement is multifaceted, all of these principles will be subject to varying definitions to be negotiated by participants according to changing contexts and conditions.

Terri said: "I do want our elected officials and our town staffs to get off their duffs and come up with an economic development plan that is consistent with the demographics, history, and, dare I say values, of Orange County."

And I think she just made Aaron's point (if I may put an explanation to Mark's paraphrase of his point - game of "telephone" anyone?) -- our community has historically not been receptive to ANY economic development. Sure we talk about it, but when it comes to doing anything, we're not helpful.

For a current case in point, see Eastern Federal Theaters vs CH Town Council et al. Whether EFT is a good corporate citizen or not, the fact is we have a hole in the ground which is hurting good businesses (Branch's). Nobody in charge seems to understand or care about this. And we suffer as progressive consumers because of it.

In CH, we have weakened local businesses so much (increasing the licensing fees???), that only the Walmarts can survive. And then we bemoan downtown's condition. These things are connected, folks. Until our leaders understand how to help Aaron and not view him as an enemy, Walmart will continue to expand to serve customers, wherever they can.

"Progressive economics" may be as simple as placing authentic value on the elements that make a strong and vibrant community. Communities that are most apt to survive and prosper are those that are built upon a foundation of local relationships to each other and to the land. There is a discernible and traceable web of interconnectedness and transactions are viewed as contributions of support for sellers and producers as well as good deals for the buyers. Maple View Farms is a prominent local example.

Sustainable communities are self-reliant (and self-reliance is the heart of freedom). They are less dependent on large, centralized corporate food, energy , and product providers. With oil (and all energy) prices certain to rise, we know that the less dependent we are on the big corporations that have colonized so much of our society, the better off we will be.

In a way, every economic decision can be looked at as either ceding power to the greater corporate economy (which is far easier to give away than to reclaim) or building local self-reliance and strengthening the health of our community right down to the household level.

Paul--I've gone through the commission's draft plan and I appreciate the 4 aspects of the plan (infrastructure, workforce development, ????). My computer doesn't want to open PDF files tonight so I can't refresh my memory, but I don't recall that the plan is specific enough to identify businesses that should be recruited or even industries that are compatible with Orange Co. I'll look at the plan again tomorrow and if I need to eat my words I will.

Dan--your definition of non-progressive economics "to increase inequality, decrease opportunities for self-reliance and mutual aid, and prioritize the (profitable) luxuries of the wealthy over the (less so profitable) necessities of the poor and working/middle classes" is a bit too cynical for me. I don't believe that anyone sets of to increase inequality although I will accept that some people have a much greater sense of self-interest than do others. And if you see environmental responsibility, human rights, civil liberties, anti-discrimination, etc. as progressive principles, then I know a lot of conservatives who are also progressives.

Mark--I like your definition although I'm not sure I buy the self-reliant part. Being self-reliant means the community has clearly delineated borders. My feeling is that we live in a series of nested communities, all of which are dependent on each other. So Heritage Hills is part of Carrboro, part of Orange County, part of south Orange, part of Smith Level, etc. Each of those communities has unique features but none stand independently of the others.

Terri, I didn't say that people set out to increase inequality. They set out to increase profits. The nature of the capitalist economy is to increase inequality as a result of that pursuit. Why do you think we have minimum wage laws? Because without them, there is no effective minimum in how far that inequality will be taken.

Terri, I hear your point about Mark M.'s self-reliance piece, but I think self-reliance is an important value in a progressive economy. But it should not be confused with self-sufficiency (which would be complete and total self-reliance). Making self-reliance a goal simply means that we should be working toward less dependence of foreign oil and other basic products that come from the other side of the planet. That is, buying dairy products that are created sustainably at a dairy four miles from my house is good for me, good for the community, good for the economy - and, of all things, tastes delicious! I'm sure you agree. It's also a national and regional security issue: When gasoline prices spike still higher or if the transportation infrastructure in the US is thrown into disarray, our community will not be cut off from a supply of fresh milk, because fresh milk comes from our community. This is a kind of community self-reliance (although not self-sufficiency because I am sure that Maple View does not make anything like enough milk for our entire community). Can we really do this in all areas of our economy? Of course not. But we can make increased self-reliance a goal and achieve it to the extent that it is feasible.

As for your other point about economic development planning, the entire Board of Aldermen had an interesting discussion about this general topic at the beginning of this year. At that time, we tried to identify what sorts of employers could be compatibly located in Carrboro. At the time, this discussion was very employment focused. That is, we were looking mostly at what kind of jobs would be a positive influence in Carrboro.

The feeling was that Carrboro would be a good fit with a medium-sized employer in the category of TIAA-CREF or perhaps a large foundation or other non-profit entity with significant financial resources. For-profit businesses were mentioned as well and I think someone mentioned SAS as an example of the kind of responsible employer that board members wanted to see. The thinking was that these types of organizations value their employees and have staffing needs that range from janitorial services to IT people to execs. These are also organizations that put a high value on sense of place and therefore would be willing to pay what it costs to locate in commercial areas in Carrboro. Of course, the specific examples of TIAA-CREF and SAS are too large to fit in Carrboro, but they were mentioned to give the flavor of the category of businesses desired.

While Carrboro is continuing to explore how this could be done, Terri has raised a serious question: Is it a mistake to think of economic development solely in terms of the kinds of jobs to be created? That is, should we also be asking what kinds of goods and services does our community need? She's got a point. We should.

For example, there are no hotels or motels in Carrboro. I don't think there is even a Bed and Breakfast. Correct me here if I am wrong, please. Likewise, there are few real choices for ordinary housewares in Carrboro. Even looking at the entire Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, there is not much available in the area of housewares. Try to buy a coffee-maker in southern Orange County. There are some for sale, but not many and mostly they are quite expensive specialty items. And we could say the same about a lot of other products. Just the kind of stuff that is available at Wal-Mart. :( There must be a way to supply our community with such essential services without dealing with the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world.

I am working on an OP post on this topic, so let me stop there and go off to finish writing that post.

Hi Terri---I'll let Katrina pipe in about the meaning of the progressive label. Katrina is a certified cog in the Democratic Party machine—Carville training and all. She has lots to say about the progressive label and the sad state of the Democratic Party.

John A--- I actually enjoyed Maitland's article. There was some funny stuff there… not the efflluvial stream though…

Mark M--- I have trouble with the provincial nature of your economic theology. I'll have to re-read Dan's social ecology lit. I'll say more when Mark C. gets his new post up...

Thank you Mark. That's exactly the point I wanted to make. Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County are forcing my neighbors here in southern Orange to work against their own economic self interest by not providing good shopping areas. We go to Chatham for groceries, hardware, videos, gas, alcohol, pharmacy, etc. All that sales tax could be coming to Orange County. I know it gets complicated by the watershed and the decision to not grow down here, but as long as people live here, they are going to shop. Southern Village has nothing practical except a dry cleaners.

Same for all other portions of the county. Roses is not sufficient as a resource for affordable underwear, children's clothing, and housewares. Fitch is not sufficient for hardware needs. I'm sure northern Orange has similar problems although it does seem like Hillsborough has more affordable shopping than Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

Either we need to work with the business owners we have to beef up their inventories and their hours of business (my preference) or we need to recruit competitors. If we plan our community around the concept of sustainability/self-reliance, we can improve our business climate significantly. And I hope we can do that by recruiting businesses that fit into the needs of the real people who live here--the housekeepers, secretaries, maintenance workers as well as the teachers, assistant professors, and small business owners. I realize they are endangered species, but perhaps we could start promoting our own form of environmental/cultural protection protection program.

Terri Buckner wrote:

I'm sure northern Orange has similar problems although it does seem like Hillsborough has more affordable shopping than Chapel Hill/Carrboro.

That's right Terri. We have big boxes up here in Hillsborough. Wal-Mart opened in 2003 and later this year, Home Depot will open. Additionally, last April, Hillsborough officials set aside 90 acres of big-box retail development at the intersection of I-40 and Old NC-86 as a part of the Waterstone master plan (just on the other side of the rural buffer).

In much the same way that Chatham County threatens Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Mebane threatens Hillsborough ... except Hillsborough's problem is potentially worse. Mebane can actually annex and develop into Orange County. They have already started and will likely continue. Mebane's ETJ almost reaches Efland.

The "worse" part is that Orange County Planning efforts have hooked the Town of Hillsborough into MOU's with Orange County, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and the two school systems in which Mebane was not invited (nor desires) to particpate. I am referring to SAPFO. From an economic development perspective, it puts Hillsborough at a disadvantage. From a urban sprawl perspective, it puts the entire Western side of the county at risk and at a disadvantage.

SAPFO is a good Orange County example for the John Hood quote I previously posted in this thread. The irony of SAPFO is that in its current iteration, it will likely increase development in Orange County, not decrease it.


You and Mark have made the point I was trying to make in the Walmart thread...that by throwing up roadblocks to commercial development, Orange County has encouraged large scale commercial development over the county line (all down 15-501 North, and with Southpoint, all down 54, and now, possibly all down 15-501 South with Super Wal-Mart)

Mark Chilton:

Did Chapel Hill or Carrboro try and recruit McKinney and Silver when they left Raleigh? I know they have an amazing space in downtown Durham and their CEO was quoted as saying something like "Chapel Hill doesn't want business."

So it seems like the question is how to generate economic development opportunities throughout the county that:

1. pay more than minimum wage and include benefits (living wage)
2. do not threaten the existence of current small businesses
3. meet the everyday needs of county residents (sustainability)
4. does not cost the community more than it generates in combined property/sales taxes (sustainability)
5. is environmentally safe

What else?

I'm sitting here drinking my coffee from Nicaragua with some cream from Maple View Farms while I shop the web on my computer powered by my photovoltaic system to buy a power tool that I can't get locally. I need the tool so I can continue building a custom house for a couple in Durham County.

The blueberry and raspberry plants that grow in the yard came from out-of-state nurseries.

There is no need to give up lemons or bananas. Trade works and is beneficial. It is better for the community to buy them at Weaver Street Market than Food Lion.

It's a tough situation. We are faced with corporations who take advantage of poverty-stricken regions to pay meager wages which translates into cheap goods for American workers so they don't have to be paid as much here. It IS a conspiracy.

I don't know what the "provincial nature" of an "economic theolgy" might mean, but I do know that the more global our economic relationships are, the more abstract they are. The more abstract they are, the more environmental and social damage can be done on our behalf without our direct awareness. The more local the relationships, the less environmentally damaging. the more humanly satisfying, and really just more fun and interesting. I don't think buying lettuce from California at Wal-Mart is a good thing because it makes me less "provincial".

Great discussion.
I repeat what I told Ruby some weeks ago: If any of you would like to contribute letters and/or guest columns to be published in the CH News, please send them our way. Why not put some of these points out for broader consumption?

Steve--in terms of recruiting new businesses, what I was trying to get at is a planful approach to economic development. The Walmart issue is an example of non-planning IMHO since its opening, along with the new Chatham Downs development, will threaten the existence of most of the small businesses at Cole Park/Chatham Crossing (video store, Pope's Hardware, Dollar Store, etc.). Should the county invest taxpayer dollars to recruit/attract competitors for the businesses that contributed to that investment?

I agree with you about economic regions. The Triangle United Way is trying to promote a regional approach to homelessness. A wise decision but it still requires including some and excluding others. How big should the 'region' be and what criteria would be included in negotiating those formal relationships?

I hate to talk Marx. Some people think that by recognising class consciousness they lose it. The local intelegensia has it's own class interests and (suprise) they don't match up with the intersts of workers or bussiness. Upper middle class faculty can spare a few hundred bucks in extra tax on a whim. To them a skate board park or public art isn't an extravegence it's an entitlement. To some extent a bussiness will jump through regulatory hoops and pay high taxes to play our game. This is the land of milk and honey for those who can get over to our side. Others (Eastern Federal) get fed up and take thier bats home. We sing lements to the plight of the poor while secretly relieved that our kids won't share class rooms with the sons of janators or daughters of fry cooks. We educate ourselves on the fine points of state septic regs becouse becouse a Wal-mart is white trash bait. We love the homeless unless we live next to habitat land (sunrise) or IFC has found a lot near you (leigon road). I prefer to kiss pigs who don't wear lipstick. The squeal just seems more genuine. I like my class consciousness straight up, no mix, no ice, no chase. That way I konw why I want to puke later on.
It's good to remember that UNC was bulit with tax money. Much of that money was taken from people who didn't really want pay. People who see us drinking exotic coffee with Mapel View Cream while they drink folgers they buy at food lion. They might hope they can get thier kids into Lenior Community collage. You know; the losers we blead so we can have a shiny new re-hab on Memorial Hall. Don't get me wrong; I'm the first to mock those refugees out of a 21st century Faulkner novel. Inbread red staters who are so retarted that they think Bush will help thier cause. Theres not a lot of commen interest between me and the residents of Kinston. I don't call it progressive. I call it ugly.

I would add to Terri's post about "what we're looking for in businesses in southern Orange County" that we want businesses who have progressive benefit policies for their employees, such as:
1. full health coverage for employees AND their families (including same-sex partners)
2. flexible spending plans that help pay for child care & excess and/or alternative medical costs

and who encourage sustainable communities by promoting:
1. telecommuting
2. biking/walking/mass transit to work (and reward employees who utilize these options somehow) and
3. giving back to our community through corporate giving and volunteer programs


Terri--I hate Walmart, so I have no quarrel with you on this issue. But what if it was Costco--which has a reputation for paying its workers a living wage, and in general not being an a__hole like Walmart? Many residents of the area might want a Costco--it doesn't just compete with the businesses you mention, it also has numerous other departments, stocked with reasonably good, inexpensive stuff. Furthermore, what if it wasn't going to cost the county much of anything? If the developer was sufficiently confident that it would turn a profit that he wasn't demanding all kinds of give backs, or fighting over every possible environmental standard? I think the county would be well advised to think hard before taking for granted that the interests of consumers always takes a back seat to the interests of existing small businesses. Consumers can drive elsewhere, not to mention shop online. In my ideal world, the town or county would have consultants who could work with the hardware store owner (presuming he (or she) has been a good business citizen), either to adjust to a niche market strategy to survive in the new environment, or, if that is hopeless, to help mobilize their entrepreneurial experience to fill some existing gap in the town or county's retail mix. I think a strategy like this--where the county uses information or other resources to give a leg up to the kinds of businesses it wants is preferable to trying to manage a market to a point where consumers start to flock elsewhere.

I agree wholeheartedly with you Steve. The more I've thought about the Starpoint development, the more I have moved away from making it a fight against Walmart. I shop at Lowes Grocery, Harris Teeter, CVS--lots of chains. I'm not sure they are all good citizens, but they either meet my needs or there is no alternative (I'd still be shopping at Colonial Drugs if it hadn't closed). I like Target but it's too far away to make it feasible--although I almost always stop if I pass one.

There are so many tradeoffs on all of this. Yesterday I drove all the way into Carrboro to shop at the HT instead of going 1 mile to the Lowes for my groceries. Kept my sales tax in Orange Co but wasted gas/added air pollution. The choices are simply too complex. I'd like the towns and the county to help by targeting ethical businesses that meet community needs. But I also don't want to be so demanding that we keep the anti-business reputation.

A healthy and diversified tax base with diverse employment options is essential to the sustainability of a community. I just spent a week in a coastal town whose leadership will attest to just that. As the mayor told me there " You can't run a town on 2.12 an hour waitressing jobs, residential property taxes on multimillion dollar homes, and the occasional sale of a high end latte machine. " Their Chamber is leading the fight to preserve the waterfront retail district from encroachment by high end single family homes, with the love and support of elected town officials who want to increase business development in that area in order to keep the tax base diverse and property taxes affordable.

The availability of many jobs locally, as well as everyday goods and services, is essential to making our community sustainable.

I think Terri is right--and incidentially I have heard Aaron Nelson say almost exactly the same thing---we need to decide what kind of economic development we want, go out and invite it here, and make the process understandable, time-limited, predictable, and user friendly for those entities. We need to empower town staff to assist those businesses through the process of opening up here.
I'd like to see us address more of the tangible and constructive ways in which we can encourage our community and Orange County in smart economic development. And retail has to be part of that picture, too, and not just the afore mentioned high-end latte machine store. Lawyers, doctors, therapists, and such are great services for our town, but they don't generate sales taxes, and that's the piece of our budget that is really missing----the "goods" part of goods and services.

The truth is that Chapel Hillians spend lots and lots of money outside our town. Reliable sources say that most businesses in New Hope Commons would go out of business tomorrow were it not the $$ from the 27514/27516 zip code spent there.

This seems like a good juncture to re-emphasize Marcoplos' point that:

the more global our economic relationships are, the more abstract they are. The more abstract they are, the more environmental and social damage can be done on our behalf without our direct awareness. The more local the relationships, the less environmentally damaging. the more humanly satisfying, and really just more fun and interesting.

There are many abusive practices that we tolerate indirectly whether at Walmart, Target, or Costco, that we would never accept from a producer in our own community.

I also want to dispute the notion that desired businesses ought to be recruited. If you recruit Weaver Street Market, you get Whole Foods. If you recruit the late-lamented Branch's, you get Border's. If you recruit Visart, you get Blockbuster. If you recruit 411 West, you get Olive Garden. Etc.

Although at this juncture in our history a local economy cannot be insular, we should emphasize growing the businesses we need. That means providing access to capital (as in Carrboro's revolving loan), incubator space (as at Midway), and know-how (as at Good Works, SBTDC, etc).

Anita--can you expand on what you mean by "tangible and constructive ways in which we can encourage our community and Orange County in smart economic development?"

Does anyone know the extent to which our town governments and OWASA make their purchases, and especially high ticket items, from local businesses? Is there a written policy to do so or do they shop around for the best price?

Fred -

OWASA is bound by law in many cases to get the best deal for the ratepayer. I know that truck and equipment purchases as well as building contractors are chosen based primarily on cost.

Dan--Most Americans, including most Chatham and Orange County residents, prioritize price and convenience when shopping. They know about Target, Walmart et al, and don't live all that far from them if they live anywhere around here. This is the reality that people planning a county's retail tax base have to work with. As I said earlier, it seems that Orange county has decided to keep most of the retail most people use out of our county. That is ok (Scott Maitland notwithstanding, local democracy is alive and well, and people knowingly vote in the town council), but wishing more people bought local (whatever exactly that means these days) doesn't have a whole lot to do with the actual dynamics set in motion. The dynamics are that lots of Chapel Hillians drive to the border of Durham to do their shopping on the weekends.

Another reality--note that Mark Chilton, a few posts back, was describing what sort of businesses he thinks Carrboro should attract. This undoubtedly is not because he is opposed to grow- your-own strategies, but (and stop me if I'm wrong here, Mark) because he does not believe those strategies are producing a large enough jobs and tax base for Carrboro. Advocacy of localism has to be made with some awareness of both present-day realities and some of the questions of class that are raised by all these decisions.

Can't we do both--recruit from outside and grow our own?

I think Steve Sherman has the best grasp on reality here.

Dan and Mark M--- there is something lovely and almost religious in nature about your similar views of an ideal world of local economy; however, what I don't see in your ideal is a serious accounting for the tendency of people to want to blend in and go with the flow. Most people I know want to be a part of mass culture. This tendency works towards ever expanding community boundaries and globalization. Again, I love your ideal, but do you really think the global economy is going away? How do you think this will happen? It seems to me that in order for your ideal to work, you will have to convince the world that efficient production is not a good thing. How will you convince the world of this--- or are you willing to concede that there is a middle ground of a balanced local, national, and global economy?

Mark S.
Writing a letter to the CHN isn't much fun. It's hard to make a tight argument with the word limit, and when someone responds to the holes in my letter, there is no chance to respond--- unless I wait a month. Blogging here is so much more rewarding. I like the immediate give and take.

It is useful to reflect on where our desire for mass culture comes from and why it is so easy to view it as "the flow." What a triumph of marketing that we accept as unquestionable reality something that has been sold to us since birth and are convinced that something historically recent has an inevitable permanence.

Do we believe that humans have the capacity to determine their economic destiny, to demand economic structures that support a sustainable environment and healthy communities? Do we believe that democratic processes (in this case those of local government) can be the means to do so? Or do only the professional marketers at Walmart, Gap, Time-Warner, et alia get to make that determination, to define for us "the flow"?

Mary--The Local Government Commission's 15 principles on economic development promote a combination of what you call Dan and Mark's idealistism with more mainstream ideas. Those principles can be found at :

It appears to me that our own local governments are pursuing SOME of these principles, but not all. I see more of an integrated strategy in Carrboro than I do in Chapel Hill, but I don't follow CH as closely as I do Carrboro. The county's EDC plan seems to address some of the vision issues, but not all. Right now, I feel like the county's efforts are too segmented between Planning, Human Services, EDC, and Affordable Housing. If anyone knows how (if) those various depts and commissions interact with one another, please share.


In my own small way I have made changes based on what I have learned. I'm sure you have also. So it's possible and its satisfying.

I think it is also interesting to ponder that we have a huge state-run compulsory school system in which our children spend about a third of their waking childhood. Is there any connection between what they are being taught and the ease with which the mass culture's financial system successfully enlists so many in its service?

In my experience, there is nothing quite so religious as our society's devotion to so-called "free-market" capitalism. My advice to put a solar water heater on every house is downright pedestrian (boringly agnostic even) compared to the abstractions of modern corporate-capitalist theology.

Mark, Dan, I love your attunement. It's a damn shame there are so many other attunements out there!

Here's another pedestrian recommendation Mark--let's build our local economy around environmentally responsible services and technologies. Jimmy Carter thought it would work. Guess I'm holding on to the past, but listening to NPR's report on paying farmers to protect the environment instead of to NOT grow cropts got me to feeling optimistic that maybe a few of those old 70s type ideals might actually be coming back into focus. Some cities are giving tax breaks for greenbuilding.....I'm torn on that one. In one way I know incentives work but it also feels a lot like the stadium-development type incentives that I don't care to perpetuate.

Since Aaron Nelson feels this is an anti-business community, I'd like to challenge him/the Chamber to help change that attitude by providing some concrete examples of how local "enterprises work as civic partners, contributing to the communities and regions where they operate, protecting the natural environment, and providing workers with good pay, benefits, opportunities for upward mobility, and a healthful work environment." Is his decision to furnish the Chamber offices with flooring made from recycled materials common practice among our local business community? What about living wages and benefits? What else should we know about our local businesses....or those that we've lost?

Terri, that's not what Mark S. said in his commentary where he was paraphrasing Nelson. He said that Aaron indicated that there were "many people" in our community who believe that. I have never read or heard Aaron say this is an anti-business community. Have you?

Even though Dan Coleman asked Aaron to identify the "many people" who said this to him or his members, I doubt seriously that he would do so; what does it serve? I for one have no problem believing that such comments are made. I am, however, heartened by the fact that Dan Coleman has never met any of these "many people." I am also heartened to see that Dan Coleman and Aaron Nelson agree on this issue.

It's interesting that we require by law that governmental units seek the best price deal when they make purchases, but we want average citizens to suspend rational economic decision making and buy higher priced items for other reasons. There are "rational" reasons why people go to Home Depot and Wal*Mart, and why they shop at Streets at Southpoint and New Hope Commons. To alter what they consider a rational decision, more must be done than just criticizing their decisions.



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