Oklahoma City

What would real economic stimulus look like?

August 23, 2011: 9:54 AM ET

It's time to stop the zero-sum game where regions merely pull jobs from each other with expensive tax incentives and call it economic development. And one particular approach just might do the trick.

By Eleanor Bloxham, contributor

FORTUNE -- It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the very real economic problems the U.S. is facing – to finally move the needle on the economy, deliver better wages for our workers, and jobs for the unemployed and under-employed.

We need to stop the zero-sum game where regions merely pull jobs from each other with expensive, unproductive tax incentives and call it economic development.

We need an approach to our problems that involves real expertise, where success can be measured, and replicated from one location to another. And we need an approach that is nimble and cost effective. In short, we need a solution that makes sense.

A new plan, right in front of us, will roll out soon. An "enterprise development and market competitiveness project" is being launched with specific goals in mind.

"The project is designed to raise incomes and employment…. Focusing on the role of small and medium-sized enterprises ... the [project] will facilitate the development of competitive enterprises ... by stimulating innovation, enhancing workforce skills, accelerating new enterprise formation, improving access to finance, and addressing shortcomings in the business environment. The [project] will provide technical assistance, training, and grants to … [expand] sales in new and existing markets. The [project manager] and [the U.S. government] will mobilize additional resources from other sources to accelerate growth."

The manager for this project has been chosen. And work will begin soon.

In Armenia.

Armenia (in rough figures) has a population one-hundredth the size of the U.S. (3.2 million people versus approximately 311 million here). The workforce is roughly 7.1% unemployed versus our July figure of 9.1%.

If we can define a project like this for Armenia, with a population one hundredth the size of ours, why not define 100 regional projects of this type for the U.S.?

Of course, to move on such an undertaking requires agility, expertise, funding and limited bureaucracy. The projected cost for those running the project in Armenia is $17 million. The U.S. would need 100 Armenia-type projects, so how about a $1.7 billion budget for this project?

By comparison, similar projects have been done in the U.S. for $10 - $15 million in the past. One such example is Oklahoma City, which staged an impressive economic comeback after suffering from the collapse of the energy boom of the 1980s. That project was spearheaded by noted economic development expert Ed Morrison along with area business leaders -- in particular, Charles Van Rysselberge, who headed the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce at that time.

Where could we get $1.7 billion? More

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