Does anyone have a plan for Southside Economic Development?

    Is there any hope for economic development in South Monroe? Is there a master plan anywhere that can begin steps toward resolution of the economic decline in the area?
    This is a concern of most Southside residents who have great ideas, but to date, there are not positive plans in force that will change economic conditions in South Monroe in the foreseeable future.
    As a community, we have not decided what we want? Do we want businesses that generate jobs, regardless to who owns them; or do we want to develop Black own businesses in South Monroe.
    The conversation among the leadership is defining economic development in one of these two arenas. There are some who say, create opportunities for businesses to open up in South Monroe, regardless to the race of the owners. In this line of thinking, if the community can get large retail establishments or a corporation to locate in South Monroe, who cares whether the owners are white or Pakistani or Black? Money is money.
    The other train of thought is the idea of community empowerment. This line of thinking views Southside Economic Development in terms of providing opportunities for the people who live in the community to own the businesses in the neighborhood and expand black community owned businesses, hiring our own people and expanding the economic base of the Black community.
    We have not decided whether we want economic opportunity for everyone or whether we want it confined to the Black Community alone, expanding black-owned businesses to provide jobs for our own people. Will we be separatists like the Black Power thinkers of the 1960’s or are we inclined to embrace the expansion of business opportunities to anyone, regardless of race, as long as they create jobs.
    It would appear that there should be a merger of the ideas. It might be best to pursue business opportunities for all, regardless of race, with an intensive effort to ensure that the black community is included in the mix and that the jobs created actually benefit the people of South Monroe.
    A large retail store that opens in South Monroe doesn’t have to be owned by Blacks, if the store is a community partner assisting with community improvement, employment and growth opportunities. The race of the owner does not matter as much as the investment the new company plans to make in the community.
    There is no guarantee that a black-owned business will give back to the local community, just because the business owner is black. There has to be a commitment. Right now, nearly all of the small retail outlets in South Monroe are owned by minorities and Indian Americans. Even though they are minorities they give very little back to the community and provide very few jobs for Southside residents. They make it on the Southside and live and give someplace else.
   Once we decide the focus, then we need a plan. It has to have short-term visible goals and long-term goals that will determine the direction of our efforts in the years ahead.
   A short-term goal may be to assist in small business development. This may include a two or three year push to offer training for those who want to start a business including finance packages, accounting, land acquisition and a plethora of other details. In addition, it might include partnerships with the SBA to guarantee loans to startups.
   Long-term goals may look at the big picture. An example of a long-term goal may be to create a climate conducive to attracting and growing business. The crime issue would be a high priority because it is probably one of the main factors deterring growth in South Monroe: nobody wants to build businesses in high crime areas. Create a safe neighborhood and promoting it, would be a component of the long-term goal.
   The long-term goal could also include major infrastructure changes. For example, a pathway from Highway 165 to the airport may be needed. The present major pathway stops on the other side of the tracks on Elm Street. What if there was a safe boulevard leading to the airport through the area? It would certainly spark growth, a shift in housing patterns and other changes that would stimulate growth in the long haul. The interstate and Highway 165 run through South Monroe, and it only takes a little imagination to see how properties in the area could instantly become Park Place and Board Walk in the economic arena.
    Obviously, these are just ideas, but one thing is certain; right now nothing is being done, and that is a sad epitaph.