Murky business

Now that the outcome of the ?mystery business? situation in Hillsboro is known?even if the identity of the business remains mysterious?it?s a good time to thoughtfully consider the challenges that come with the effort to bring economic growth to a small, rural community.

The question: Should community leaders regulate which new businesses will be allowed to set up shop here and which will not? Hillsboro city leaders have essentially said no: Small towns don?t have the luxury of picking and choosing which legitimate enterprises can come to town and which cannot.

Other voices have disagreed. In this most recent case, some residents have criticized the city council for even allowing the possibility of a Fortune 500 company to set up a business that would compete against well-established, locally owned businesses.

This newspaper should be the last voice to criticize the idea of new businesses competing with established ones. That was precisely our situation when we launched the Free Press in 1998. We concluded that the established newspaper was no longer serving the community adequately?and we were grateful the county was open to give our venture a try.

But we also realize the most recent situation was different from ours. We came in as a locally owned business; we weren?t outsiders, and we certainly didn?t come in with deep pockets. We understand the misgivings about letting in a new business backed by a mega-company with no local commitment.

City leaders have suggested that local businesses, to protect their future, need to operate so profitably that outside competition will be disinclined to locate here. Or, that the city has a strong enough economic base to support both the local business and the newcomer. Especially in these economic times, we question whether either scenario is a reasonable caveat. Most of our retail business have already flipped every switch they can think off to make themselves more profitable. The battle to survive in a small town is challenging, even when the corporate competitors are a half-hour away.

One positive we can take away from this most recent situation is that Hillsboro was perceived to have a strong enough local economy that the big boys took positive note of it. Beyond that, the battle for economic growth in small towns will continue and so will these murky issues. ?DR

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