Some argue that it is always best to contract locally. This may be true. Moneys spent locally tend to stay locally. Depending on the analysis— and they vary — those moneys are turned over in the local community as many as seven times. Thus a $5 million project would theoretically generate as much as $35 million of economic impact. Our community would certainly benefit from that kind of investment. So discussion closed, right? Not so fast, not so easy.
There has been an organization formed in the Imperial Valley to support local businesses. A great idea in concept but once again the difficulty is determining a valid and fair definition of what is local. What about those businesses at the mall? Are they also local? Most are national, if not international, chains stores, even if to their employees the work is local. What about Wal-Mart, is it local? I am sure that the hundreds of Valley residents that work there believe so.
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Further questions arise with respect to local contracting. What about quality and competitiveness. Do taxpayer funded projects deserve just quality or should we expect the best quality? Increased number of bidders typically provides for a decrease in costs. This is true whether in business or government, in roads or in buildings. I believe that is what we call healthy competition. Not so easy as “always.”
Lastly, is there any local benefit if the contract is not only for the locals? We may want to ask the hotel and motel operators. The restaurant and retail owners may also have a difference in opinion. These types of businesses benefit greatly from an influx of temporary workers. A full examination offers that there may be a level of competing interests among the separate business groups. We might even want to check with our local governments concerning increases in the occupancy tax and sales tax revenues. A review of local government budgets would show the significant impact of these types of revenues.
Perhaps this issue isn’t quite as easy as some would like to think. It could be that providing the best delivered project at the best possible value should be the number one priority. After all, it is the taxpayers’ money. Of course the passionate or self-interested don’t want discussion; they have already decided that it’s always best to hire locally. That may in fact be the right policy but as always, the devil is in the details.
Jon Edney is a former El Centro city council member.