June 10, 2012

Grasso takes the helm at TDC

Colin Read, Everybody's Business

---- — There is an Achilles heel of capitalism. Its very strength is its weakness. The competitive model stresses the energies and inspirations of myriad economic agents, each trying to outsmart, outproduce and out-innovate others. They each glean the signals the market offers and develop strategies to earn their profits. They do so without coordination.

The alternative has not worked very well. All-knowing central authorities that fully understand what resources are at their command and what everybody wants have proved elusive. Even if the government could know these things, the lack of a profit motive often produces wastefulness, lack of initiative and a failure to produce at competitive prices. Most every government that once subscribed to a centrally planned economy has realized its folly.

This leaves us with the competitive model, with its strengths in innovation and in the pursuit of efficiency. However, its weakness is that, in the independent pursuit of profits by myriad capitalists, signals get crossed. One entity pursues a strategy, sometimes at the expense of, and at other times in ignorance of, the greater goals of others and of the economy as a whole.

The result is the occasional coordination failure. We have been experiencing one on a global scale for the past four years. At these times, we require someone to lead us away from our own worst economic enemy, ourselves.

While I have all but given up on the ability of our national and global leaders to come together, some local groups have proved more able. Agencies like the Chamber of Commerce and The Development Corporation (TDC) in Clinton County can facilitate economic coordination. Garry Douglas has shown great success in aligning disparate forces. I predict that the new president of TDC, Paul Grasso, can do the same as he begins his new job tomorrow.

It takes just the right individual and the right circumstances to transform competition into cooperation. One must rise above egos and politics and bring together disparate groups and individuals. We must not be fearful of those most capable, and we cannot dwell on who gets the credit for success or remain mistrustful of the motives of others. Instead, it takes a steadfast determination to create, innovate, produce and close the deal. These are skills that Grasso will bring to TDC. I predict he will meet with great success because our community is cooperation-oriented and production motivated.

This may even be a grand opportunity for breaking old molds and forging new partnerships. For too long, TDC pursued one set of prospects while the chamber pursued another. Cooperation was uneasy, but cooperate they did when absolutely necessary. Grasso does not subscribe to any such impediment to cooperation, without concern about who gets credit.

In fact, I can imagine a terrific collaboration between the chamber, with its ability to put Clinton County’s best foot forward, and TDC with its ability to create infrastructure and foment creative solutions to challenges facing new industry. Douglas and Grasso both hold their gaze firmly on the ball and a vision for an economically vital region. Now is the time for these organizations to dispense with turf and figure out a way to merge their resources, have their respective boards work together and divvy up and apply their respective skills.

When they do this, Plattsburgh’s horizons will be even brighter. Now is the time. Those who can work smart and innovate passionately can excel in hard times.

Yes, I am excited about the prospects. While TDC recruited across the country to fill its leadership void, I was pleased and unsurprised when they found the very best right here in our own backyard. Now, let’s use this opportunity to put on our thinking caps, discuss our grandest ideas and work together across organizations, agencies and companies to put Clinton County forward. If we do, we will discover that a rising tide lifts all ships. And, we can show that markets works best when private organizations can come together with the public and non-profit agencies in an effort to grow our economic pie.

With two of the most effective leaders running two of our most accomplished economic engines, imagine the possibilities when we explore myriad new ways to work closely to thrust our region forward. Let’s find a way for their boards to sit together once or twice a year and help pave the way to our collective future.

Colin Read is the chair of the Department of Economics and Finance at SUNY Plattsburgh. Continue the discussion at