Vision for the Valley: For most of us, the economy isn't our top concern

OUR VIEW VISION FOR THE VALLEY The downturn is the most pressing priority for 43% of people who took the Vision for Valley survey. But, surprisingly, 57% of us think other things are more important.

March 8, 2009 

Our top priority is clear and it's certainly no surprise: Focus first on the economy.

That is the overwhelming first takeaway point from an online Vision for the Valley survey. When 2,415 people logged in, they were asked to set priorities from a list of 10 Vision action items.

The top choice: "A strong economy. Encouraging, recruiting, retaining and developing businesses of all sizes that will enhance the Valley's long-term economic health."

Look a little deeper, though, and you see an underlying desire to improve the Valley's transportation system, preserve the Valley's environment and enhance the Valley's schools.

This is all good advice - and important advice - for the more than 70 community volunteers working to bring the Vision for the Valley project to life. The key is balance between short-term crisis and long-term goals.

JOB ONE ...

We launched the Vision for the Valley editorial project in August, to encourage proactive decisions that will preserve and enhance our community. Our Valley will not get very far, however, if we do not first preserve and enhance our economy.

If any further evidence was needed, it came Friday afternoon, with bleak February unemployment numbers. The statewide rate hit 6.8 percent. The Treasure Valley numbers rose to 7.7 percent - a figure that doesn't even factor in the 2,000 layoffs looming at Micron Technology.

After two decades of growth across Idaho, centered largely in the Valley, these are unfamiliar numbers. The state's unemployment has rate reached a 21-year high.

As job recruiting and worker training becomes all the more urgent today, we can take lessons from the 1980s. Gov. Butch Otter was lieutenant governor in the mid-1980s, focused largely on economic development. He remembers too well the "brain drain" that afflicted Idaho. Thousands of professionals fled the state in search of high-paying jobs. "That was a huge loss to the state of Idaho," Otter said Friday.

As frightening as the unemployment numbers are, Otter is even more worried about underemployment - workers who are qualified for $30-an-hour jobs but are forced to settle for half the pay. He has a point. We must make sure Valley workers have the skills for jobs that pay well. Then we must nurture and attract the jobs.

... BUT NOT THE ONLY JOB

There are a few surprises in the survey results.

The mild surprise: Economic concerns transcend demographics and geography. Parents of children under 18 are slightly more concerned about the economy, but not much. Concern for the economy actually increased, based on household income. Economic worries were slightly higher in western Ada County and Canyon County. These were relatively small shifts, though, and the economy was the clean-sweep No. 1 priority.

But here's a big surprise: In the midst of a deep recession, 57 percent of respondents said the economy was not their top priority.

Nearly a fifth of all respondents focused on transportation, including 20 percent of Canyon County respondents. Twenty percent of Boise and Garden City respondents made the environment their top priority, although that number dropped to 10 percent in Nampa and Caldwell. For 11 percent of all respondents, education was the top priority.

So our agenda isn't so simple and our focus isn't so single-minded. We are still concerned about making long-term investments in roads and transit and schools, and still concerned about the air and water and open space we pass on to our children. We haven't lost sight of the long view - and that's to our credit.

Short-term prosperity and long-range legacy aren't mutually exclusive. But tackling both - at the same time - presents a challenge to our Vision for the Valley volunteers and to us all.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.

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