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Reap the benefits

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Economic development dominated the all-candidates’ forum here prior to the municipal election in November, and it’s clear from Mayor Glenn Witherspoon’s annual New Year’s outlook that it will continue to be the buzzword in 2001.

In fact, the mayor ranked telecommunications, attracting new business, and waterfront development as the top three priorities the town will focus on this year.

Great. Wonderful. Clearly, the future of any community hinges on its ability to foster a healthy business climate that, in turn, means jobs and a broader tax base. And certainly, improved infrastructure is needed as Fort Frances prepares to host a World Health Organization safety conference in 2002, and then celebrate its centennial in 2003.

But bandwidth means little to those who can’t afford a home computer, as does more jobs to those who don’t have the skills to fill them. Yet the social problems that plague Fort Frances—from a shortage of day care spaces and literacy skills to domestic violence and alcohol/drug abuse—have been lost in the mantra of economic development and high-speed Internet access.

And no one is offering solutions because no one is talking about the problems.

This isn’t to say society is responsible for ensuring everyone makes $100,000 a year, has a home computer, and owns lakefront property, not to mention an SUV, snowmachine, and personal watercraft. Nor is there a rule that only taxpayers’ money can keep kids off the street instead of an entrepreneur or service club stepping in with an idea.

But our leaders shouldn’t pretend these problems don’t exist, or sweep them under the proverbial rug in hopes they’ll go away if ignored long enough. Instead, this is an area that council, in partnership with others, should demonstrate better leadership in 2001.

Economic development is one thing. Helping everyone reap the benefits, or at least have the opportunity to do so, is quite another.

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