Last week I went up to the Adirondacks with my family, passing through towns both thriving and dying. As we came to a red light while passing through Saratoga Springs, I couldn’t help but take in the town’s quaint, homegrown atmosphere. While most of the towns in the region face the strain of a decreasing manufacturing sector and a lack of innovation, Saratoga Springs has had a flowering economy. Several manufacturing centers, a top liberal arts college, and a famous horse racetrack proudly call the town home.
Yet, a 15 minute drive in any direction yields a bunch of towns with shriveling manufacturing sectors and dwindling populations. The difference between these towns can’t be explained through a difference in regulatory climate; businesses in both the failing and flowering towns face a similar tax and regulatory burden. Towns like Saratoga Springs succeed in spite of government action, not because of it. Imbedded in these success stories is a distinct culture and geography that encourages free enterprise and growth. A town may grab onto the coattails of a local university, or hinge off of the beauty of its natural surroundings. Either way, the success of an individual town doesn’t necessarily lead to the success of an entire region.
California legislators have touted Palo Alto and Silicon Valley as a product of their economic reform measures. But nearby Oakland remains in shambles and San Bernadino is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings under similar economic policy. Silicon Valley, like Saratoga Springs, exists because of unique cultural phenomena.
Policymakers can’t manufacture this sort of environment and the only way to create regional—rather than local—economic success is to attack the problem at its core. Governments can’t merely focus on one town or one sector of the economy; they have to tackle broad-based policies and lay down a real path for regulatory reform.
Even centers of prosperity like Silicon Valley and Saratoga Springs suffer from the same anti-business environment as their less fortunate neighbors; 1 in 6 Silicon Valley firms moved employment outside the state or country to decrease costs in 2011 and Saratoga Springs still suffers from the recession with a significant portion of the population unemployed. The fact that these hubs exist is a blessing; the fact that there aren’t more of them is an unfortunate result of bad policy.
– Dan Tucker