The Seed Corn

This Week's Featured Op-Ed Column in The Cape Cod Chronicle 

With Sofie off to Euroland this week visiting her Austrian grandparents, I've had some time to pull my head up from work and think about her future.
 
Born almost five years ago on a U.S. Army base Germany to an Austrian mother, Sofie started off with some advantages.  She can go to college for practically free at universities in Europe.  She's already learned to ski in the Alps, on the mountain that "Where Eagles Dare" was filmed.  And when it comes time for a job, she'll have two continents to from which to choose.
 
When I became a single father, Sofie was only 11 months old.  My choice to return home immediately was a simple one.  There was a large extended family, with a number of places we could stay temporarily.  Summer was coming, and what better place for a child to get fresh air, sunshine and exercise? But I was aware this was short-term planning.
 
But remaining in Chatham has been disheartening.  Chatham is not so much my home, as it is Sofie's home.  I compare it to the Chatham I grew up in, and for all the powdered milk and hand-me downs I knew, I find today's affluent Chatham lacking.  It all boils down to whether Chatham actually cares about its future.
 
If child - any child of any background - grows up here, do we care if after paying for that education that they move away?  Or are we to continue down the path of a "cruise ship economy", with workers and residents both here for a short period of time, and only the scenery stays the same?
 
Our much ballyhooed, much worked-on, unanimously-passed and often-cited Comprehensive Plan is now also much-ignored.  No one seems to be willing to talk about the economic development, despite a crying need.  As housing prices and the overall cost of living in Chatham continues to skyrocket, wages for the average wage-earner have stagnated.  We make meager progress at providing more affordable housing, but fail to address the other side of the equation:  How can we attract better paying jobs and businesses?
 
The initial decision of the Board of Selectmen to pay the Chamber of Commerce to handle economic development was disturbing public policy.  It strains credulity to believe that the Chamber would look to bring new business to town that would compete with its members for space, customers and employees -- regardless of the benefit of the community as a whole.
 
It is likewise absurd that our elected representatives would cede economic planning to an unelected, private entity, and fund them to boot, with no oversight.  We might as well get rid of the Planning Board, ConsCom and ZBA and hand their power over to local realtors and builders.  These may all be good people, but we need to look forward not back.  And this is not the way to run democratic, open government.
 
This is the twenty-first century Massachusetts.  Chatham has low crime and low dropout rates, terrific environmental resources, the most over-educated fishing fleet in the world, a large pool of retired business executives.  So the best we can come up with are six-to-nine month $8 an hour dishwasher and chambermaid jobs in an economy whose existence is based entirely upon whether the sun is out?  Talk about a house built on sand.
 
The Cape already has five locally-controlled economic development commissions.  But not Chatham.  Local parents - Selectmen included - should reflect on what kind of options they want to provide for their children.  We have a good idea of what Chatham's future will look like, and even what it will cost.  But what will it pay?

Read Andy's other columns at this blog or at The Cape Cod Chronicle.

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