Economic development: Time to invest more in people, less in things?

Just the other day I found myself thinking about all of the economic development projects our company took part in over the last year. A strange question came to mind. Why are so many of our economic development dollars geared towards the acquisition and creation of depreciating and deteriorating buildings and machinery?

The most basic commodity in any economy is the work force right? What if instead of a manufacturer getting $100,000 in tax abatement over 5 years we invested $25,000 in the training/education of that manufacturer's employees and management in order to generate that same $100,000 in increased profits due to increases in efficiency and production?

Maybe we could start using more work force and continuing education incentives to attract businesses to our communities instead of land, building, and machinery incentives. We no longer make simple job creation requirements, we make investment in the work force requirements. Our communities would no longer be creating just businesses and tax base, we would be helping nurture those businesses and do our best to ensure their future growth and success. We would be helping fuel innovation and upward mobility.

The recent public relations push by MNDEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development) emphasizing their MJSP (Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership) grants is a step in the right direction. I hope we see continued buy-in from employers, communities, educational institutions, and politicians alike. Our country seems to have no problem investing in the college education of people with little experience or direction. Why should we even question putting the same assets towards bettering proven employees with a clear sense of direction and motivation to innovate?

It's just a theory, however I believe that if we invest half as much in things and spend half of that on people, not only would we save money now, our returns will be far greater tomorrow.