To our new city manager, Mike Matthes:
Congratulations. It was a pleasure meeting you and your wife Friday at City Hall, just down the block from the Darwin Hindman Autoplatz (i.e. the new parking garage), where, from my eighth-floor penthouse office (i.e. my car), I overlook the great city of Columbia.
According to Columbia's website, as chief administrative officer, the city manager is responsible for:
- general administration of the city.
- program coordination and development.
- preparing City Council agendas, special staff reports, annual budget and an annual statement of city programs and priorities.
- answering to the City Council for all operations of the city as well as implementation of policies and programs adopted by the council.
- appointing all officers and employees of the city except for the city clerk and municipal judge.
In a September 2009 open letter to our fair city's mayoral candidates, I mentioned my concerns about Columbia’s future. Though the mayor's seat is an important one, you are the guy in charge. Like the manager of any town, be that position called the city manager, mayor or administrator, the basics are the same. Make sure the garbage is picked up, the streets are clear of snow and debris, fix potholes like "The Abyss" that recently appeared on Broadway and know where the money is going.
I met you Friday as a citizen, not as a journalist. My major concern, as it was in 2009, is not the general economic health of the city. You and the others noted that the city’s budget is not great, but not that bad either.
One of the most immediate challenges is helping close the economic gap between the high-paying, professional jobs of the colleges, hospitals and insurance companies (which all rely on each other), and the $8-an-hour jobs offered in retail and fast food.
It appears to me that Columbia has neglected attracting or keeping manufacturing companies that can proudly stamp “Made In U.S.A.” and “Made in Missouri” on their products, providing jobs to the blue-collar workers in the middle of Middle America. I mentioned this to you and you all acknowledged my concern.
The question is: Will you do something about it, working with City Council, REDI, the Chamber of Commerce and city planning boards?
Columbia is the perfect spot for manufacturing. In the middle of Middle America, at the crossroads of Interstate 70 and U.S. 63, Columbia has an airport that will be expanding physically and commercially and a rail system that is underutilized. It has land, housing, water and reliable power. What more is needed? Oh yes, a willing city.
From what I can tell by listening to presentations by university officials, the mayor and others in the business world — not only here but across the nation — manufacturing is so last century. High tech, computers, Internet, medical technology — those are the new century’s bread winners. But that is just wrong.
Recent comments from the White House, the Department of Commerce, Department of Labor and others concerning America’s trade deficit were revealing. The United States is exporting ideas and innovation but not manufactured goods.
Here is the tale of the tape. According to an ABC report, if every person in the U.S. spent just under $70 a year — about $0.20 a day — on American manufactured goods, 200,000 new jobs would be created. Not next year. Now.
Why can’t Columbia get some of those jobs here? Blue-collar jobs that pay more than $20 an hour, jobs that might not require a college education and employers who would be willing to help new employees without a high school diploma get a GED.
Providing more blue-collar jobs would mean lower-income students staying in high school and graduating. It would mean families sitting together at dinner time. It would mean less crime and less gang activity. It would mean more taxes collected through the support businesses that will also grow. It would mean more donations for our wonderful nonprofits helping those who cannot help themselves. The list goes on.
And Mike, wouldn’t that be a wonderful legacy to start? Even better than the Hindman Autoplatz. Oh, and don’t forget the potholes.
David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.