Recently I wrote a news piece about Upper Limit Aviation in Cedar City, a helicopter and fixed wing training school. The article was about a city council proposed fee increase to Upper Limit, but what really brought the story to my attention was a rather contentious discussion about the company on Facebook.
On one side of the argument, people complained about the increase in noise as a result of a jump from one or two flights a day out of the Cedar City airport to 75 takeoffs. Most people on the other side touted the jobs provided by Upper Limit, essentially saying that people should either quit complaining or move somewhere else.
My question is, if a company is causing a negative public reaction or has a potential negative impact, should the fact that they are providing jobs be enough justification for that company’s continued existence?
Let me answer that question with another question. If the Nazis showed up with the promise of 500 new jobs, would we still claim this as positive growth?
Okay, that’s an extreme example, but I think it drives the point. Adding new jobs can’t be the only determination when it comes to whether or not a community should accept new growth. To illustrate this, besides the local example of Upper Limit Aviation, I would point to the regional example of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and on a national scale, the perpetuation of Walmart superstores (yeah, I’m going there).
First, let me say that I’m not personally against Upper Limit Aviation. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I live in Kanarraville, and before learning about this new company in Cedar City, my wife and I definitely noticed the sudden increase in helicopter traffic over our quiet little piece of land last summer (the Upper Limit training route takes them either south from Cedar City along the I-15 corridor or west of town).
While we weren’t pleased with it, we learned to deal with it. What bothered me about the Facebook discussion was the assertion by proponents of Upper Limit that simply because they were providing jobs, anyone else bothered by the noise should just “get over it” and was selfish to be annoyed by it. However, as one commenter said, this was akin to someone telling the downwinders who suffered from cancer as a result of the nuclear testing in Nevada to “get over it” because it was good for the country.
Iron County Commissioner Dave Miller was contacted by the main complainant. When I asked him about it, he said, “We certainly look at the impact into our neighborhoods and residential areas, the wildlife and so forth … As a community, we allow for certain things to happen. We want to be supportive of those things. We have to try to find that balance of what works and doesn’t impact people’s peace. You’re never going to make everybody happy … We want to be supportive of business activity, but we want [those businesses] to be supportive of what we want to try to accomplish too.”
In other words, while these are valid complaints, since they’re not Nazis or causing cancer, nothing is going to happen.
On a regional scale, in January, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, the expansion of an oil pipeline system running from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Even though the State Department has admitted in their Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that production of oil-sands petroleum creates about 17 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil, and the U.S. Department of Transportation shows at least 73 pipeline related accidents in 2014, one of the top three stated advantages of approving the Keystone XL Pipeline is the creation of jobs.
The State Department estimated that the pipeline would generate approximately 42,000 jobs. Well, 42,000 jobs is nothing to sneeze at, you might say, but dig a little deeper. These are temporary jobs that would only last during the roughly two year period of construction. And after that? The State Department says about 35 of these jobs would be permanent. I know two years of employment can do a lot for many people, but it’s a temporary fix leaving 41,965 people to file unemployment claims when the job is done.
Do we trade the potential decades of damage to our environment for those two years of work?
So maybe we can just open up another Walmart. Those are good for jobs, right? While Walmart may be the largest employer in the United States besides the Federal government, according to the PBS documentary “Store Wars: When Wal-Mart Comes to Town,” the majority of the store’s employees with children live under the poverty level, and approximately one-third of the employees are part-time, meaning no benefits.
And what about the push in the United States to support small business? It’s no surprise that when a Walmart moves in, small businesses who can’t compete with the box store’s pricing are pushed out. Beyond bulk purchasing, the way Walmart can price so low is by purchasing overseas. Even though they tout “Made in America,” most of their products aren’t; an estimated 85 percent of their products come from overseas. And that means less jobs for Americans.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 2001 and 2006, Walmart’s trade with China eliminated 133,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs and accounted for 11.2 percent of the nation’s total job loss due to trade, and obviously China isn’t the only foreign country where Walmart gets their goods.
Then there is the modus operandi of Walmart, which is to open multiple stores, often in close proximity to one another, essentially becoming their own competition. Once they have pushed out the competing small businesses, they are free to close down some of their stores. In 2005, when “Store Wars” was released, it was estimated that 390 empty Walmart stores were on the market, 390 stores where people were put into unemployment.
When it comes to growth, jobs can’t be the only factor when determining whether a proposed business is good for a community. I recently wrote an article on Washington County’s economic development , and the regional economist, Lecia Langston, mentioned three factors that determined how things were progressing economically.
While one factor Langston discussed was indeed the creation of new jobs, the other two were unemployment claims, and sales. In other words, when people lose their temporary jobs or are paid so poorly that they can’t buy anything, this is not growth. And I would dare say that in addition to those three factors, there are several more worthy of consideration, including quality of life, environmental impact, and putting people ahead of profits.