Had a thought today which lead to a very interesting conversation with a friend. Back in my hometown, the whole area is depressed. Near dead, I would say. My early thought was, if I was a billionaire and had the inclination, how would I rebuild the city to become successful? Why is it not successful now?
Because it’s my business, I thought tech. The property values are so low from the terrible economy, I could buy huge buildings and turn them into data centers. I’d just need to strike deals with the telcos to bring in enough bandwidth. And with data centers comes the higher-paid skilled labor to run them. Because the area might not be experienced enough to handle technology at that level, some workers would have to be brought in.
Attracting people to the area would be difficult, because there seems to be nothing here. So as part of the investment, I’d have to buy a bunch of franchises like Chilis, Outback, Olive Garden, maybe a Dave and Busters, Chuck E Cheese, etc.
Some other thoughts started to jump in. I don’t think the immediate area would like such urban sprawl. The area markets itself as "Victorian", so technology and chain restaurants just don’t fit. That’s not to say everything couldn’t be built in adjacent areas, which don’t have a persona. In fact, the areas that don’t have a defined style are fairly better. They attracted a new hotel, a Staples, Walmart (not all that good for the local economy as it killed off a lot of local businesses) and Home Depot (killing off a few other local lumber suppliers).
So I brought this idea up to my friend and we discussed it. As we talked, I formulated stronger reasons why this wouldn’t work. And I came up with an alternative plan. The primary reason why the plan wouldn’t work is because our home town area is blue-collar. Strong blue-collar. My initial plan was to bring white-collar jobs in to boost the economy. To keep the white-collar talent, I’d have to provide amenities like the chain restaurants and probably some upscale chain shopping stores.
My friend was confused as to why restaurants would change anything. I distilled the values of white-collar and blue-collar people into a few statements:
Blue-collar workers are family-oriented. They stay in one place, they take pride in knowing all their neighbors and having a big family and extended friend circle.
White-collar workers are career-oriented. They move frequently, they are always moving to the next job, so they don’t create large circles of friends and family. If they need to see friends and family, they travel. Their higher salaries afford them this luxury.
That’s all. So what about restaurants and white collar people? Because white collars move so much and have such hectic lifestyles, chain restaurants and stores provide comfort and familiarity. If those familiar icons aren’t there, they feel out of place, they have to learn a bunch of new places to eat and shop. This is different than when they are visiting, because they temporarily give up their comfort for experimentation. "It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there."
So in summary, the local area would frown on having their Victorian theme butchered, the new white collar workers would feel out of place in a blue collar area, providing the white collars with the expected amenities would be met with resistance (see point one)… it just wouldn’t work.
But, with new clarity, what kind of business would serve a blue collar community and also provide an elevated standard of living? It’s already pretty well known that this community can be exploited. Telemarkting, call centers, and assembly-line sweat shops already keep the population firmly rooted in low-pay blue-collar purgatory. My idea was warehousing. Land is cheap and pretty plentiful, a major interstate is very close by, a blue-collar workforce is readily available (this is important for companies trying to open a warehouse in a white-collar area). Wages could be highly competitive and might cause an upswing in other industries. Compare this to the opening of Walmart when it was a mixed blessing to have a company hire hundreds of people at minimum wage. Does that really help the local economy?
Phew. This is probably my biggest posting, but it’s something I thought was interesting. I may elaborate on this as I spend more time here.