Anyone who cares about Springfield should read Bruce Rushton’s recent dispatch on the parlous economic prospects for the capital city. (See “Sobering statistics”July 27, 2017.) Basically, of the three legs that prop up the local economy – government, medical care and retailing – two are distinctly wobbly.
I do not envy those local policy-makers who are obliged to craft remedies for changes that are, essentially, out of the city’s control. Conventional economic development will not work. Springfield offers nothing to relocating or expanding manufacturing and assembly firms than dozens of other cities offer just in Illinois.
A key insight in Rushton’s report came from Norm Sims, planning commission executive director, who addressed the area’s stagnant or shrinking population. “You’ve got to recruit people, not just businesses,” Sims said. “You can’t have sluggish population growth and business growth.”
Indeed. Way back in 2011 I noted that a competitive assessment of Springfield done the year previous for the Chamber of Commerce by an Atlanta consultancy noted that to rebuild the capital into an Oz of the 21st century you need youngish subprofessionals. As the sages of Atlanta summed it up, “Retention and attraction of college graduates and young professionals will be critical to the region’s future and long-term economic competitiveness.” And an overlooked source of such whizzes is all the Springfield kids who go away to school to return home after graduation. As a group they are an economic development asset. (See “Boomerangers” Oct. 13, 2011.)As I noted then, attracting credentialed young people is not easy for any smallish city in the provincial Midwest whose main appeal is cheap parking. In “A place for business to live” (Aug. 6, 2015) Attracting people, not businesses, that means making Springfield a pleasanter city to live in. Mend the gaps in the urban fabric with infill. Help citizens save their old buildings. Make sure the water and sewer and electricity systems work. Plant lots of trees. Run city hall in an efficient and friendly manner. Devote the city, in short, to Springfield development.