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March 19, 2015

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In fairness to downtown, I went to their advocate's Facebook page. Here is what the Chamber writes:

"The Chamber wants to take a moment to thank those that choose to engage in entrepreneurial activity. Small businesses are the backbone of the Salem area economy. We believe in the importance of free market enterprise and also the principles of fair and equitable competition. We look forward to learning more about the economic impacts food carts have had on the Portland economy and how we can all learn valuable lessons that can assist our community in its continued growth. Salem's downtown economy is seeing a resurgence of activity thanks in large part to the economic investments and risks currently being taken by local businesses. We hope you choose to embrace the momentum that has clearly started thanks to local restaurants and help make Salem awesome.

"We look forward to more positive and productive discussion on this issue."

The Chamber begins by saying “The Chamber wants to take a moment to thank those that choose to engage in entrepreneurial activity.” Innocuous enough; they seem to be cheering on those who are entrepreneurs.

The next sentence, though. begins to subtly qualify their definition: “Small businesses are the backbone of the Salem area economy.” They follow up with the admirable principle of fair competition: “We believe in the importance of free market enterprise and also the principles of fair and equitable competition.”

The Chamber has usually held up the principles of competition as placing entrepreneurs above the rest of us because they put everything on the line because of their willingness to take risks. Nonetheless, they want Salem to stand back and wait and see and to follow Portland’s lead, letting Portland take the risk: “We look forward to learning more about the economic impacts food carts have had on the Portland economy and how we can all learn valuable lessons that can assist our community in its continued growth.”

Food carts should be permitted only if they assist the community in “its continued growth.” Growth is tied to the “economic investments and risks currently being taken by local business.”

Our responsibility as consumers is to spend our money (e.g. “embrace”) only at those places whose "economic investments and risks” will sustain “the momentum that has clearly started thanks to local restaurants and help make Salem awesome.” Brian: you do not have any role in making Salem awesome other than to follow the lead of those who have made "economic investments and risks."

As I read it, there are two types of “small.” There are small businesses, like vertebrae, that form the backbone of Salem’s economy. Then there seem to be even smaller things, sort of small like parasites, The Chamber’s observation sort of reminds me of another observation, this by Sterling Hayden in Dr. Strangelove: “A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice.”

Implicit in the Chamber’s sinister message is that we should only patronize those who take risk in terms of investing in stationary brick and mortar locations. Frequenting food carts, I guess, is sort of like contributing to downtown osteoporosis.

Richard, interesting observations.

Regarding the foundation of economic vitality, I wonder why the Chamber doesn't thank the individual Salem citizens who buy the stuff that small and large businesses offer up.

Maybe I don't understand economic theory, but it sure seems that without customers, businesses don't succeed. In other words, "it takes a village" -- to use that vilified term. Or put differently, "you didn't build that" strikes me as entirely true.

Neither a regular downtown business nor a mobile food cart would succeed in that area without the massive public/tax investment in infrastructure, services, and such. Nor, of course, without the downtown customer base, which includes government workers, retired folks on Social Security, unemployed people, and so many others.

Yeah, it gets tiresome when the Chamber of Commerce claims that small businesses drive the economy. Lots of factors drive the economy, not least of which is government spending and investment in public infrastructure.

My son owned a food truck in the heart of downtown Portland. My understanding comes from that source.

In the beginning Portland brick and mortar restaurants were resistant to the food truck concept, and early-on they were mean spirited about the new competitors. Food trucks prevailed, foot traffic increased, and the brick and mortar folk benefited. The end.

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