Unemployment and crime seem to go hand in hand in most big cities. When unemployment is high, crime seemly rises also. Over the last two decades we have seen our unemployment rates go up and down like a titter-tatter. Sadly many people have been forced to move to lesser paying jobs or taking on two sometimes three jobs just to make ends meet.
During the 80s, while growing up in the Quad Cities in Illinois I watched with sadness as many family friends lost their jobs. Most of these friends had worked many years at John Deere, Caterpillar or International Harvester. Store fronts were becoming vacant, shops were closing and people were moving out of the area at sometimes an alarming rate. On a daily bases you might hear someone say, “Last one to leave the Quad Cities turn off the lights.”
For the last two and half years I have been living in the Flint area in Michigan where unemployment and crime are both on the rise. General Motors has recently gone through a buyout period and Ford is following in the same foot steps. Violent crime in the area is higher here then most anywhere else in the United States. One example of this is what happened the day after Christmas when a young 9th grader was shot and killed at a gas station just two blocks from me, all because he had money he received during Christmas.
The United States is idly sitting by and even encouraging businesses to outsource jobs; even though the American people are hurting to find good paying jobs. Favored Trade agreements are given to countries and their products are rapidly arriving on a daily bases. Yet the American people are getting left out by their own government when it comes to providing better jobs.
What can be done to change this and improve our current down swing toward poverty? I don’t claim to know the answer to that question. But I do know from what I have seen in the Quad Cities that there are options out there that our local government can do to help.
When I refer to the Quad Cites I am referring to the collective whole of all the cities that make up what is known as the Quad Cities, rather then try and highlight one or two cities. What the Quad Cities did as a whole might very well work else where to help improve other communities.
As I stated the Quad Cities started seeing a large number of residence leaving for other parts of the United States. With lose of jobs and the revenue the Quad Cities knew they needed to bring jobs into the area and to do so fairly quickly. After a number of informational meetings between policy makers and local business people the Quad Cities came up with a “revitalization plan”.
The revitalization plan consisted of five main areas. They are (as quoted from www.chamberlink.org): Expand the manufacturing base, Capitalize on existing assets, Help entrepreneurs and small businesses, Strengthen education and job training, and Build public infrastructure.
One of the first parts of that plan was to make the Quad Cities appealing to attract smaller businesses to the area. They started with tax credits and land purchases for development. This was coupled with increased marketing throughout the region and the United States as a whole. Marketers were sent out to sell the benefits of what the Quad Cities had to offer. One of the biggest draws was the Mississippi River. This allowed manufacturing plants to easily and quickly move their products using barges up and down the river.
The next step was to in-large the local airport so to handle increase traffic and larger planes. Also to make the area more marketable the airports name was change to Quad Cities International.
With the availability of former International Harvester and Caterpillar plants was a chance to attract other types of manufactures to the area. Large plants were purchased, cleaned up and made readily available for other smaller manufactures to use. Unlike the former much larger companies that once occupied full city blocks for their one plant, now many different manufacturers were able to exist within one plant.
With these changes came much needed road work. Pot holes were filled, bridges were repaired and more roads were added to make accessing some areas easier. In some cases roads were re-routed or removed completely to allow for more pedestrian foot traffic. This allowed smaller shops and businesses to get exposure to the public where otherwise they might have been over looked or ignored.
Whole downtown blocks were redesigned and beautified to make for a more appealing visit to the area. More police were hired to make those areas safer and to help battle back with the rise in crime from previous years.
Laws were changed that allowed previously unlawful type businesses to gain access to newer markets. Largely this was the addition of allowing riverboat gambling. Currently the Quad Cities plays host to three such riverboats.
To help with families looking to move into or back to the area local banks offered bank loans with better then average rates. Abandoned homes were either torn down or repaired and sold. Apartment complexes were erected and low income housing was over hauled.
With all these changes over the last ten years or so the Quad Cities residence are no longer saying “last one to leave turn off the lights”. Today the Quad Cities is enjoying a renewed growth and more is expected as more improvements are made.
I don’t know if what the Quad Cities did will work in every city. But I suspect that unless something is done soon for many cities that are struggling they too will be saying, “Last one to leave turn off the lights”