Good afternoon. I stand between you and the end. My name is Tom Baldrige and I am with the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce. I first really want to thank Antonio, Sean, and Linda for putting this session together today. I think it has--at least for me personally--challenged my perspectives and my patience at times. Perhaps what I have to say may do the same for you.
It may speak to the fact that I feel comfortable on my feet, or that I’m remarkably unprepared with my message, to tell you that, after each presentation I rethought what I was planning to say here at the end. I continued to rethink it even as each person on this very panel spoke. So these are my notes and I will be very brief.
I really feel the need, and I think that it is interesting that I feel this need, to say this right up front, even though it sounds defensive on my part. As the president of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, I have to tell you that I love our local private sector. They are unique in their capacity to give back to this community. We have over 700 nonprofit organizations in this County because the private sector believes in making a difference in that regard. We are the second largest Chamber in the state, which is indicative of the fact that this private sector joins in the civic effort to make this community better. I’m very proud of this local private sector and I felt the need to say it as a part of my intervention here today.
Now, I think this concept of a Center is absolutely essential, and maybe I’ll be presumptive in assuming that it will happen and therefore speak to some of the things on which I would exercise caution in its development, in the work plan if you will. I think the first thing--and some of it for me came to light today--is that there is some danger in statistics. Frequently statistics will drive your actions. So I think that it is absolutely essential that we have a very diverse perspective and input into what exactly those statistics mean for our community, for fear that we might take a statistic out of context, or without all the facts, and it might leads us in an unwanted direction. We, as a community, absolutely need to have some facts on which to base our future vision and local economy. Absolutely without a doubt! But it is critical that we make certain that those facts have a complete context to them before we conceive a community agenda around them.
I’ll give an example, an example that is interesting to me--not exactly an example necessarily of faulty facts but just an example of the way statistics can drive things; now I’m also speaking to what I perceive are some political realities not necessarily proud moments of Lancaster County. Earlier today it was mentioned that the poverty in the county is six percent and the poverty in the city is 21.2%, I can tell you that out of the five hundred or so thousand people in the County about four hundred fifty thousand of them said, "whew, at least we are at six percent," and didn’t necessarily feel ownership to that 21 percent that is concentrated in the city. I think it is essential that, if we are going to address these issues, we use those statistics to make certain that we are dealing with countywide agendas, because we need to be clear that the city is everybody’s and it is not now their problem to deal with their 21 percent because we are in fact happy over here, just managing the six.
That’s the type of thing that we need to be very careful about. Some of you might have heard what I’m about to say--because I just used it the other day in a talk. I saw a bumper sticker the other day, and this bumper sticker keeps coming back to me: it said, "the Indians discovered Columbus." Now the point there is: don’t always think of things in their preconceived form: it’s the city on the one hand and it’s the county on the other, that’s the way we need to look at things. There are different ways to look at things, and I just think it is important that, if we are going to start gathering facts and putting them out there, we must make certain that we are looking at them in the appropriate way.
The other role, and somewhat counter to what I just had to say, is that we need to be clear about recognizing the region in these statistics. As a region, south-central Pennsylvania, we are the 36th largest market in the country. We are one notch below Charlotte; we are above Austin, Texas and we are above Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. And we have a lot of economic clout. If you are looking at our statistics from a regional stance, it sends a whole lot different message to those that you are trying to attract to do business here to try to promote a quality of life that doesn’t just include the Fulton, it includes the Strand and Whitaker Center, as an example. It doesn’t have five colleges or institutions of higher learning, it has twenty. Those types of things are significant. I think we need to make certain that we don’t draw some artificial boundaries around the statistics that we use to promote our economy.
Another element about regionalism--this is a very simplistic example, but I will use it. The other element that speaks so strongly to the regional element is that almost all Lancaster County hogs are sold to Hatfield. Kunzler doesn’t buy local hogs. For those of you out of town, Hatfield is in another county, a couple counties over; Kunzler is local; and if you just look at it like the farms and their market networks, you need to be worried about the Hatfield’s as well as the McCoy’s.
Finally, the other thing that would be important, as it relates to today’s discussion, is that we need to be very clear about theory versus practices. I think that it is essential that when we are talking about direction and vision and statistics that we have practitioners up here--of which, I am not one, by the way. I’m talking about those people who are running companies, who are trying to meet payroll, who are paying their taxes, who are looking at the issue of workforce and health care cost and liability issues, etc. etc. They have to be part of the mix or the mix will be limited in its viewpoint.
The final point I want to make is this: it was interesting to me, that the reporter that was here today from the New Era, sat through what was probably an hour of this and then his deadline came and he left; and there is no other reporter here right now. I didn’t see tonight’s New Era but my guess it will be reflective of an hour’s worth of what was heard and that will be now what’s out there. I think what we need to be very wary of is that, when we are doing these statistics and trying to create some facts, we are doing everything we can to share these facts.
Antonio, earlier today, questioned the leadership of the public sector as it relates to this issue. Well, as it related to the public perception, the issue frankly, and I’m for it, you always have to clarify this, the issue is farmland preservation. So the county commissioners have no problem whatsoever passing the 80 million dollar bond issue for farmland preservation, but talk to them about a 20 million dollar bond issue about economic development or about revitalizing our urban areas and it becomes a completely different political issue because we have not done an effective enough job at educating the population with the facts on how all of the aspects are interrelated.
I am done.