Afterthoughts on aftermath



Time Magazine’s published a photo essay on the abandoned, rotting, magnificent buildings in Detroit by French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. Detroit and Buenos Aires are probably the two most interesting places on the planet for me right now, because, put together, they answer the question, “What do you do when your industry and your economy utterly collapse? What happens when the numbers on the spreadsheets tell you that the bricks in the walls have no value?”

In my arguments yesterday, I left out a couple, probably more, but two will do for the moment, of potential events that could create the outcome I was seeking – economic growth in Reno.  One is already taking place and the second is too scary to even look at too closely.  First the scary one.

Today, I watched an hour special on Al-Jazeerah commemorating the anniversary of the beginning of the overthrow of the Mubarak regime.  To the Egyptians, unlike the rest of us, the beginning of the dramatic change was not in Tahrir Square and all of those relatively well-behaved demonstrators.  To them it began in  Suez, quietly at first, but ended in violence, death and burning buildings.  The citizens of Suez started with mild protests about election procedures but police tactics escalated the protestors into revolutionaries.  Suez has a model that no other Egyptian city has, in 1973 Suez resisted the Israeli occupation, attacked the Israeli forces and burned down the police station that was their headquarters.  The demonstrators a year ago in Suez were well aware of that precedent and cited it frequently in their rhetoric.  They went much further this time and burned down many more buildings than the headquarters of police (the same building they burned in 1973).  So that is the first of the two events I left out of my argument, revolution and civil war – in the aftermath of those events, too, there is much to repair and rebuild. It is not a model we would like to follow, is it?

The second event, while it does not generate immediate economic growth, does address unemployment rates – population egress – people moving away.  For the better part of 50 years Nevada led the nation in population growth, most of that growth was in Las Vegas, but Reno too attracted people looking for less expensive homes for their retirement or jobs in construction or gaming.  While, our housing prices are still less than California, it is not as easy to cash out in California and move to Nevada as it was in those go-go days of yore.  And of course the jobs possibilities are long gone – except possibly in light manufacturing and warehousing the only two segments of our economy showing any signs of growth.  But in general, we have lost people, most of those that came here for construction, gaming, lawn care, gardening or entry level retail have been forced to move on.  Reno at moment is much like Detroit, the major industries that drove our economic growth for a very long time are shrinking dramatically, the revenues and the employment are both effected.  Casino revenues and casino employment for example are lower than anytime in the last 25 years; construction cannot be too far behind.

However, the bad news in this case becomes the good news.  When enough people have gone our unemployment rate will drop.  We won’t have gained any new jobs, but a much higher percentage of our population will be employed.  That fact alone will make for a healthier economy.

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