Somerville for Sale? Spring, 2012

Are you buying or are you selling? Savvy dealers always know what side of the transaction they’re on. Have something that other folks want? You’re in the buyer’s seat. Looking to unload something that no one’s really interested in? You’re selling. From the kid trading baseball cards to a broker with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, the key to success is the same. You need to know when you are buying and when you are selling.

Somerville is a gold mine. We are in spitting distance of a major metropolitan area with an evergreen economic base. Education, medicine, and financial services are our major industries. No matter how hard times are, people get sick, go to college and use money. Somerville is cool, hip and happening. We have what people want.

So what should we do with our wealth? How should we develop our assets? When someone comes to us and wants to build houses or a shopping center, shouldn’t we ask them to use local labor to build these projects? Boston has had a residents job policy since 1985. As a community, we have the right to make these demands because our taxes subsidy these projects. According to the City’s web site “…$73 million in public funds were identified and awarded in 2008 and 2009…” to underwrite the costs of building Assembly Square.

When a major retailer opens a big box store, shouldn’t we ask them to give folks who live here first crack at jobs, and to source goods and services from local businesses? The East Palo Alto First Source Hiring and Local Business Enterprise policy didn’t keep Ikea from opening there in 2003. Why wouldn’t a similar policy work here in Somerville?

Over the last ten years the overall percentage of our community living below the poverty line jumped from 12.5% to 18%. Clearly, we need jobs that pay well. Arguing that a local hiring ordinance is a bureaucratic burden that shouldn’t be imposed on businesses is in the same vain as the idea that if government would just get out of the way, private enterprise will create more and better public good. This argument has Somerville as the seller and businesses as the buyer.

We have what businesses want. We are positioned to drive the bargain. To make the most of what we have we must hold out the proposition that the people who live here are great workers – smart, dedicated, skilled and insist that companies that want to do business here have as much faith on our people was we do. Show them our diversity and creativity. Show them our history of industriousness and invention. Show them how we invest in our schools, and how our investment was recognized last year when the Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation named Somerville High School Innovative School of the Year. Show them how our city government is a nationally recognized leader in data driven decision making and a creator of cutting edge efficiencies. Show them that we believe in ourselves. Show them how we stand up for ourselves and for what we believe in. Show them why we are an All-American City. And then roll out the welcome mat and invite in those who will truly invest in our community.

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