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Sue's Views: Economics not sexy but news isn't all bad

A woman stopped by the office earlier this week to renew her subscription. As many folks do, she offered some opinions along with her payment.

The conversation was prefaced with her comment, "The town is going downhill." She went on to complain that we have too many police when there is hardly any crime, there is no effort being made to attract new businesses to Morris and the only things worth reading in the newspaper are the Looking Back column and the obituaries.

My first response was to thank goodness she wasn't trying to recruit me for the local optimists club.

Then, I wanted to point out that perhaps the amount of crime was low because we have a full compliment of dedicated law enforcement professionals, that it takes more than a 'For Sale' sign in the window to attract new businesses these days and that you might have to have some desire to look forward rather than back to be interested in the news and not the history of the community.

But instead, I nodded my head and listened to her tales of how the town has changed.

More disappointing to me is that this was not the first time these kind of comments have been shared with me in the past few weeks. I had gotten a phone call the week before from a man wondering why we weren't reporting anything on the former Coborn's building.

"Because there isn't anything to report," I replied.

Well, he had heard differently from his wife's bridge club.

So, phone calls were made and authorized corporate representatives replied that no, indeed, there was no change.

Which led to a larger conversation about why there isn't more news about economic development in Morris.

I agree that what we need is a little good news for the Morris business community. But the answer is a little more complicated than you might imagine.

Virtually all business deals are confidential and the business owners decide what, if anything is said publicly. Conversations between economic developers, business owners and bankers are not covered by Minnesota's Data Practices Act. The best we can do is ask what's going on and report what we can verify from credible sources.

More importantly, most economic news includes a bunch of statistics and percentages and is, quite frankly, fairly boring.

I have a copy of the 2009 Stevens County Economy report as prepared by the Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission. What it says is that our unemployment rate is low, we have more jobs than workers, and the number of employers has increased.

Let me repeat that last one for emphasis: we have more employers in Stevens County today than we had 10 years ago. However, for that same period, the number of workers in the county decreased. Here's the "huh" part of this: The percentage of change in the number of employers and the number of workers from 2000 to 2009 is identical at 7.6 percent.

As I said, economic news is anything but sexy.

Basically, this says in numerical terms what I should have said in response to the notion that the town is going downhill: It just ain't so.

Of course, it would be better if we were growing instead of maintaining, but given all of the economic volatility, staying even is in itself an accomplishment.

So, what about trying to bring new businesses to town? It's going to take more than one person with a title to make things happen in a community. We all need to be ready to work hard and share our belief in the essential good nature of the community and its leadership with our disposable income as well as our opinions.