Spending our resources our way - a future for the Island economy
How can we strengthen the Island economy and ensure a prosperous future?
The livelihood and commerce work group is tackling this question. This work group is one of five established by the Martha's Vineyard Commission's Island Plan steering committee, as we move from process to content. Five more work groups will form next spring.
The other four areas of the first wave - housing, natural environment, energy and waste, and water - have been extensively examined in recent years. These four work groups will build on the good work that has already been done. Livelihood and commerce starts from a somewhat different place. Have we ever, as a community, thought broadly about how we might imagine - and develop - the economy we would like rather than accepting, without question, the economy we get?
We have influenced our economy through strategic marketing to build up the shoulder seasons, to brand the Island as the perfect wedding location, and to promote a variety of events. The Chamber of Commerce has done this successfully. These efforts are important.
But at the same time we have been "spending" our youth (forcing them to move off-Island due to lack of housing) "spending" our water quality (by polluting our ponds). "spending" our vistas (by failing to protect them), and "spending" our species (by failing to provide sufficient habitat). We have been spending to buy things we don't want.
Now Island planners and business people will look beyond the expansion of a particular essential sector of the economy. How might our economy best serve a complete range of community needs and interests? Michael Shuman, an authority on local economies and the author of Going Local and The Small Mart Revolution, will visit the Vineyard next week to share his expertise about invigorating and diversifying local economies.
As we probe into all things local, we must also look outward. Events beyond our shores - in the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world - may have significant local effects. Governor-elect Deval Patrick, in his first post-election talk, said that a centerpiece of his program is to stimulate a major renewable energy industry in Massachusetts. He said, "If we do this right, the world will beat a path to our door." This speaks directly to the Vineyard, with our great wind resource and big head start from years of renewable energy experimentation and activism. Nationally, the Democratic congress, if it enacts immigration laws more reasonable than those we have now, may make the Vineyard's business climate stronger, due to our reliance on an immigrant labor force. Worldwide, the approach of peak oil (the time when the ability to produce falls short of demand) and the resulting increase in energy costs might stimulate re-localization of economic activity.
Meanwhile, Shuman, in his books and lectures, points to communities far and near where economic development rooted in local ownership (control of business resides within a geographically defined community, like the Vineyard) and import substitution (when it is cost effective to produce goods and services locally, a community should do so) have begun to take hold. These principles suggest the virtues of an economy that takes full advantage of local talent, capital, and markets. If the Shuman approach were to succeed here, how might our lives change? Let's look ahead 25 years to imagine how our economy could conceivably be working.
It's 2030. Island businesses are producing more of the essential services and products we need. They are physically anchored through local ownership and keep money circulating within our local economy instead of it leaking out to faraway places. A dollar paid for rent might be spent again by the property owner at Cronig's, who in turn pays an employee, who then buys coffee at Mocha Mott's and a movie ticket at the Capawock, who then uses that dollar to pay the light bill at our locally owned co-op utility. This phenomenon is what economists call "the multiplier." The more times a dollar circulates within a defined geographic area and the faster it circulates without leaving that area, the more income, wealth, and jobs it generates.
In this new economy we are buying competitively priced and locally produced high-quality goods and services, like fresh food products grown by Island farmers, as the agricultural renaissance that began around 2000 has flourished. We drive less, as we have concentrated development in the towns to create housing opportunities and preserve valuable recreational land and habitat, and we're filling our tanks with locally made bio-diesel produced from waste vegetable oil from Island restaurants. We're using electricity generated by wind and solar, provided by a regional utility which brings down costs through local efficiency measures. We're producing more goods in craft-based small businesses. We are buying stock in one of the many local companies being traded on our Vineyard stock exchange. Our complimentary currency promotes local purchasing.
For those who have dreamed of running their own businesses, these have become exciting times. Most Vineyard entrepreneurs serve local needs, but some also have robust export markets, and we are able, via the Internet, to engage in world-wide commerce. All work together to maintain our competitive edge against global giants through local business alliances and national producers' cooperatives that undertake joint advertising, procurement, warehousing, and distribution.
Years earlier, some of these changes accelerated when the MVC created the Island Plan. Multiple strategies were developed. We kept checking our progress - in all areas, not just the economy - and made adjustments to adapt to changing circumstances. The plan became an ongoing process.
Now, in 2030, we have learned to spend our money and our resources to get what we want. We have learned to create economic development that enhances preservation of community, Island character, and environment while increasing prosperity and opportunity. The wide range of new services and authentic products make the Island more attractive than ever to our seasonal visitors, who remain the heart of our economy, and the vibrancy of Island life holds the interest of the youthful entrepreneurs who drive the new economy.