Kingsley Guy: Government must aid, not hinder, job creation

The late U.S. Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota spent his political career as an advocate of liberal causes.

In 1988, with his political career over, McGovern invested his savings in a Connecticut hotel-restaurant-conference center called the Stratford Inn, which went bankrupt a couple of years later.

The experience in small business motivated McGovern in 1992 to write an article for The Wall Street Journal, in which he declared: "I ... wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender."

McGovern went on to bemoan frivolous lawsuits and counter-productive government regulations that create expensive and unnecessary nightmares for businesses.

Politicians and government bureaucrats, from Washington, D.C., to city halls, know what it's like to sign the back of a paycheck.

It wasn't until he left public office, however, that McGovern learned about the difficulties that come with signing the front of one. McGovern recognized too late that in passing laws that affect businesses, and in creating regulations, most politicians are out of their depth.

McGovern, the patron saint of the left wing of the Democratic Party, would have been right at home at a recent Tower Forum gathering in Fort Lauderdale. The topic: "Will Greater Fort Lauderdale Win the War for Good Jobs."

The panelists were three of Broward County's top business leaders: Keith Koenig, president of City Furniture; Terry Stiles, CEO of Stiles; and Scott Verner, president and CEO of Nipro Diagnostics. Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, served as moderator.

The message of the forum: The competition for jobs is fierce, locally, nationally and globally. Success in winning the jobs war will require a commitment by government at all levels to act rationally and reasonably in creating a healthy business climate.

The goal must be to remove impediments to job creation, not create new ones that discourage entrepreneurship and economic growth.

The panelists pointed out both good and bad aspects of doing business in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Stiles said the political climate has improved over the last decade, but he also noted Broward and the rest of Florida have a long way to go before matching Texas in reaching out to businesses.

In Austin, he said, political figures and bureaucrats work with businesses in bringing projects to fruition. Locally, on the other hand, it took longer for his company to gain the necessary permitting for a major project than it took to build it.

Koenig echoed Stiles' concerns. While noting he's not a huge fan of Gov. Rick Scott, Koenig did commend the governor for his "laser focus" on jobs, and his efforts to make the state more attractive to businesses. Verner pointed to the commitment on the part of both business leaders, educators, and elected officials to improve education in Broward.

Among the major concerns of the panel is the length of time it's taking to win approval and funding for the deepening of Port Everglades so it can accommodate the huge, "post-Panamax" vessels that will soon dominate seaborne trade. Without the deepening, Port Everglades will be uncompetitive with other East Coast ports, including Miami's.

The port approval and funding process has dragged on for more than 16 years, and counting. That's six more years than it took to to build the Panama Canal.

Political labels shouldn't play a part in pushing for something as important to the Broward economy as the port project, and the business leaders noted that the most active political proponents for port expansion have been liberal Democrats, U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Lois Frankel.

In their dealings with the business community, politicians and government bureaucrats should take note of a message conveyed by McGovern in a 1993 article for Inc. magazine.

The former senator wrote that he had the earning capacity to recover from his hotel's bankruptcy, "But what about the 60 people who worked for me in Stratford? While running my struggling hotel, I never once missed a payroll. What happens to the people who counted on that, and to their families and community, when an owner goes under? Those questions worry me, and they ought to worry all of us who love this country as a land of promise and opportunity."

Kingsley Guy's column appears every other Sunday. Email him at Harborlite3@bellsouth.net.

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