The development and redevelopment process municipalities use to attract new businesses to their communities can be likened to a marriage. And residents serve as witnesses to the courting process, from the initial ‘hey, wanna get together’ phase to the ‘I think we should get married’ phase. But lets be honest, if Racine had a Facebook status, it would have to list its status message as… it’s complicated.
Racine has some baggage. Our available industrial properties are aging and often contaminated. To offset that, we’ve brought a dowry of sorts, also known as tax incremental finance districts and tax credits, to make the relationships more appealing. And yet, we’ve been left at the altar.
It’s easy to blame these developers. Sure there may have been a few bad boyfriends, but at what point do we start looking in the mirror and wonder: Maybe it’s not them, it’s us. And I don’t mean in a negative way, but in a healthy, let’s take inventory kind of way.
Tired of Kissing Frogs
Having 18 years of experience in journalism and covering communities from Kenosha to Fox Point, I have seen my fair share of bad development break-ups and witnessed community-changing projects. But watching how Racine residents react to developments like Machinery Row, Point Blue, and the event center — you can see how weary residents have grown of the process.
If you grew up here, you know what the city has lost. And Racine is tired of being found pretty enough to date, but not to marry.
Now some of these deals were not ideal. Racine should not have acted as a bank to fully fund the entire cost of Machinery Row. Despite signs that Rodney Blackwell was not the ideal suitor, we committed to the project anyway. The lesson: We need to screen these development projects in a more judicious process, which is why the city is considering passing a tax incremental financing policy. It calls for developers to have more skin in the game on their end and the developments need to have a shorter payoff for taxpayers.
Still, residents also need to stay above the line on how we view development. We are part of the reason why things have been so complicated. Over 21 percent of the population in the City of Racine is living in poverty, 9,000 residents 25 years and older living in the City of Racine don’t have high school diploma or GED, and the per capita income in the city was less than $21,000 in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
If we want to see our community change, we need to change. And we need to ask: How are we going to get to that next level in our lives?
It’s Us, Just Get A Job….
So I’m going to say something you probably already know…. Getting a job only happens when people become employable. Duh, right? But I have a theory on why this love affair with ourselves seems to have gone awry. So follow me down the rabbit hole.
We have also become complicated.
Some of our citizens seem to have gotten stuck in their lot in life. And we seem to be less resilient when our lives go in the wrong direction. In addition to education challenges, some Racine residents have an addiction or mental health issue, transportation problems, health issues and some have trouble finding transportation/childcare. They may have stopped trying to unravel those barriers that prevent them moving to that next level in their life. This is unfortunate and I believe there is an opportunity for a better discussion around these issues.
So here are a few questions: Do we have enough resources available to help people or is the interest really just not there? Or are there other barriers in the way? Why should you care?
I suspect that when many developers saw past the cheap land and incentives, they realized… the market for their development wasn’t strong enough to support the project. I mean if we want to have higher end developments, we need people to have more disposable income. And we just don’t have that.
So if we truly want our surroundings to change, we need to be taking our own inventory. The jobs are there… really. But the question remains: If it isn’t them and it is us…what should our next move be? Because if we’re not willing to improve ourselves, why would anyone want to marry us?