In Economics 101 we learn that the private sector creates wealth and government taxes it -- and spends it judiciously, if public officials want to keep the business community thriving. To have a truly successful City, government must nourish the private sector to stimulate commercial activity and support a “civic experience” that fosters widespread urban appeal.
Wise governments provide a climate for job growth by performing services and making capital investments that stimulate a vibrant economy. They take a collaborative approach in working with the business community to build a strong private sector tax base.
A superb example of such a successful collaborative partnership is what we experienced when the San Francisco Giants brought the World Series Championship home. (Remember, we almost lost our major league baseball team a few years back to St. Petersburg when some city leaders were unwilling to back the Giants.) That was a distant memory when downtown San Francisco literally vibrated with the enthusiasm of a million fans who cheered the Giants and, in effect, also celebrated the successful public-private partnership of a privately financed team playing on public land in a stadium built with private funds.
But even that great day could be eclipsed if the entire world focuses on the America’s Cup sailing match in the San Francisco Bay. The return on that municipal-private investment could be enormous, generating more than $1.2 billion in economic activity, creating more than 8,000 jobs, $13.1 million in net benefits plus $31 million in long-range development tax revenues for San Francisco. The long-term benefit for our City’s “brand” would be substantial. Hosting the America’s Cup is something we can literally take to the bank, if we win the competition to bring it here.
While San Francisco is often listed as the No. 1 preferred tourist destination in the world, we cannot stop investing in urban development and amenities that attract both business and tourists. As a convention venue we have fallen to seventh place in the nation behind smaller metro areas like Dallas, Atlanta, Orange County, the District of Columbia and Las Vegas in rooms and meeting space. These are warning signs that foretell job losses and declines in city revenues.
People don’t have to do business in San Francisco. There are options—across the Bay, down the Peninsula or in business-friendlier states. Companies lease space here, workers seek jobs, tourists enjoy our sites and people choose to live here because it’s pleasurable. Our downtown is a happening place—at lunchtime, at night and on the weekends you can feel the buzz along Market Street, the Ferry Building Plaza, the lively Embarcadero, SOMA’s parks and museums and the razzle-dazzle of Union Square. Downtown is a beehive, but it must be sustained by enlightened governance and leadership at City Hall.
So the next time you talk with a city official, ask him or her just what they’re doing to keep San Francisco growing. Are they supporting a new cruise ship terminal? A downtown sports arena? Expansion of urban mass transit? Revitalization of the Embarcadero’s rotting wharfs? What are they doing to support companies and organizations that want to create jobs and lower our record unemployment rate? Or, are they planning new fees and taxes that discourage business formation here? Will they attempt to revive the ill-advised hotel tax hike? And you might also ask them if they ever took a course in school called Economics 101.
This opinion piece appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on December 13, 2010.