MVC planners describe economic objectives
Based on extensive economic studies and months of discussion with a diverse group of Islanders, a work group has released a list of objectives and initiatives intended to build an economy that "inspires, welcomes, and enables those who grow up here to stay or return."
The preliminary recommendations of the Island Plan's livelihood and commerce work group list six primary economic objectives, and 14 "promising initiatives."
The Island Plan is a two-year planning project, which is described as an effort to achieve public commitment to bold, achievable solutions.
John Abrams, president of South Mountain Company, a West Tisbury residential development and construction firm, chaired the livelihood and commerce work group. He said the most rewarding part of the experience was hearing from a wide range of people, including farmers, fishermen, healthcare workers, school officials, entrepreneurs, and others.
"We really heard," said Mr. Abrams, "not only what their needs are, but what their vision for the future was."
Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, anticipates that the preliminary recommendations will spark more discussion and provide some quantifiable business guidance for future entrepreneurs. "The expectation is not to all of a sudden find some magic piece of information," he said. "The aim is to flesh out and put some estimates on things we already had an inkling about. We thought it would be very useful for the community to have a very robust analysis. We hope that this can be the beginning of a discussion about the kind of future we want."
The report lists six economic objectives that guided the work group in its deliberations and recommendations, including:
- Emphasize initiatives that are environmentally benign or restorative.
- Find ways to provide "career path" jobs for the next generation.
- Expand the proportion of higher paying "living wage" jobs.
- Use the community's buying power to keep more dollars circulating within the local community.
- Create new "export" opportunities appropriate to the Vineyard.
- Strengthen and gradually re-align our economic activities.
Mr. Abrams cited the objective of community buying power, and keeping money circulating in the Island economy, as especially important to him. He said his number one priority is, "making more of our own energy, food, and essentials, all of which we can do, thereby controlling the cost." He was asked whether those things are economically feasible, and if so, why entrepreneurs are not stepping into the market in a bigger way.
"I don't think the market is preventing it - I think the market is always slow to find the very best routes," said Mr. Abrams. "There's a small but striking agriculture resurgence here. In general, when it comes to making it in the American economy today, people don't make much any more, people tend to rely on food that is shipped from 1,500 miles away. The market may not be serving us well.
"It's not like we should making our cars here. Obviously we will always be making lots of purchases away from here. But maybe we can even do better at that," said Mr. Abrams, citing buying cooperatives as one example of leveraging purchasing power.
The report lists what it calls "promising initiatives," intended to generate jobs, buy smart, help local entrepreneurs, and promote Martha's Vineyard, including:
- Create a world-class "heritage" tourism program.
- Develop new strategies to harness local renewable energy resources.
- Expand local agriculture and aquaculture.
- Consider "formula" business impact on Island character and economy.
- Encourage the business community to lead the celebration and support of the Island's beauty, heritage, and non-profit sector.
- Increase community awareness of the impact of purchasing decisions and create an integrated "buy local" campaign.
- Establish an Island-based buying cooperative to provide Island discounts for products and services that must be obtained off-Island.
- Provide entrepreneurial training, mentorship, and technical support to sole-proprietors and micro-businesses in the for-profit sector.
- Expand the physical and human infrastructure needed to develop the Island's capacity to export professional, scientific, technical, and waste management services and products.
- Create new financial mechanisms such as a revolving loan fund to promote investments in local enterprise.
- Encourage new opportunities for higher learning and continuing education.
- Optimize the environment for remote work and telecommuting.
- Strengthen the health and human service sector to meet the needs of an aging population and growing number of retirees.
- Establish and market a Martha's Vineyard "brand" based on our primary economic objectives.
Mr. London says, unlike other parts of the Island Plan, which focus on government policy, the suggestions in this report will need to be implemented by the private sector. He says the work group can be helpful somewhere in the middle ground between the obvious and the impossible.
"In some cases if it doesn't make sense, it's not going to happen," said Mr. London. "If it's so clearly obvious, presumably it's already happening. I think we're looking for the in-between ones. It may be a bit more complex, it may be beyond the individual capacity of the entrepreneur. Some pushing it forward might be all it needs. If one-third of them ended up happening, that would be pretty good."
Both Mr. London and Mr. Abrams acknowledge the danger of the report becoming an academic exercise that gathers dust on a shelf.
"How do we get out there in the community?" asked Mr. Abrams. "I don't know yet. I hope we will devote some serious attention to that. Right now we're trying to get some reaction and see if we can improve it. I think if we can keep working on this and measuring and seeing how well we do, and adjusting, if we can make it an iterative process, we may be able to keep it off the shelf."
The Island plan turns its attention next to further work on development and growth issues. A public forum on those topics is scheduled for August 27, at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury, at 7:30 pm.