Interviewing the interviewer
The nice thing about being a newsgatherer instead of a newsmaker is I don’t have to do many interviews. There’s the occasional radio show or journalism forum, but for the most part I do the questioning and someone else does the answering.
Martha Wescoat-Andes dutifully played her role when I talked with her for this week’s Entrepreneur Issue (see “Mother nurture”). But then she made an unprecedented transformation: from inquiree to inquisitor.
You see, this is one of her key roles as Chico’s economic development/redevelopment manager. Wescoat-Andes interviews a lot of people—business owners, educators, public officials and even the odd editor—to gather opinions about the local economy and what role city government should play in it.
Turnabout is fair play, and she’d asked me ahead of time. So I rested my pad on her office table, sat back in the comfy-enough chair and prepared for her questionnaire.
The Q&A lasted an hour and a half. (I talk a lot.) I can’t share everything, partly because the session was off the record (but mainly because I talk a lot). But I can recap some of my observations—plus some of hers from the interview I conducted.
• The city should be proactive yet specific in targeting entrepreneurial businesses—casting fly-fishing lines rather than a tuna net.
• If Butte County secures inexpensive electricity as a provision of the Oroville Dam relicense, companies will come here anyway.
• Chicoans need to find as much consensus as possible if the city is to become, in Wescoat-Andes’ words, “ready and responsive to encourage the type of investment consistent with Chico’s assets and values.”
• We need to live with the ramifications of what we decide. Don’t set a goal of sustainable living without addressing housing problems that spawn commutes.
• City government cannot abdicate the responsibility for regulation when it takes on the role of promotion.
Her points (and my takes):
• There’s “a tremendous amount of appreciation for Chico as a place” and a deep desire to preserve its unique character, but “just as strong is concern for the economy and the chance for opportunity” all across Chico.
(Hmm, just as strong? Are the business backers as omnipresent as Bidwell Park lovers? Some who doggedly love the city the way it is—or was—care more about the view from the veranda than other people’s ability to afford verandas.)
• Attracting young-adult and middle-age professionals is vital to the community’s economic prosperity.
(Makes sense—like trickle-down economics without relying on the ultrarich.)
• Talent is one of the prime concerns of businesses, which makes school districts, Chico State and Butte College key partners in economic development.
• Businesses like places where potential is great and risk is minimal. We need to seek alignment within the City Council and among city administrators, in policy-making and implementation, in order to get the long-range plans that will lead to improve the economy.
(That’s a tall order, both to achieve and quickly discuss, so check out next week’s column for why.)