The orchard-laden foothills of North Central Washington’s Wenatchee Valley are resplendent at this time of year. The apple and pear harvest is in full swing. The warm golden hues, the crisp mountain air and the bustle of trucks carrying produce to markets near and far provide a stark and welcome contrast to the daily barrage of bad news about the downward spiral of the nation’s financial markets.
In places like New York, Chicago and San Francisco we can see the result of the demise of once-vaunted vapor traders. They created nothing but debts and are leaving whole economies in shambles.
But in the Wenatchee Valley one can clearly see the fruits – both tangible and figurative – of the real economy. Over the course of almost ten years a determined coalition of community and business leaders has been working hard and working together to build an economy of substance and promise. The results of their efforts include a picturesque and vital downtown, a thriving and growing fruit and wine industry, a riverfront soon to be animated with housing and community recreation facilities, and a Yahoo data service center.
These diverse elements make for an economy whose benefits are substantial and meaningful for the people of that region. The City of Wenatchee and the Port of Chelan County are the driving forces behind these initiatives. But the Wenatchee Valley’s success also can be traced directly to the investments and commitment of numerous private and government partners from within the region and from the outside. The Chelan County Public Utility District, for example, operates three hydro projects that deliver clean, renewable, low-cost energy to local residents and to other utilities that serve 7 million residents of the Pacific Northwest. The PUD operates a utility system that now includes local water, wastewater and wholesale fiber-optic services in addition to electricity.
To capitalize further on its hydro power resources leaders in the Valley are aggressively pursuing an Advanced Vehicle Innovations (AVI) initiative. The AVI Consortium was conceived by the Port of Chelan County in 2005 to establish North Central Washington as a catalyst and center for development, demonstration, and deployment of flex-fuel plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. These are vehicles propelled by a combination of electricity-from-the-grid and bio-fuels (i.e., bio-diesel, ethanol). Both of these energy resources are in plentiful supply in the region.
So here’s a lesson for our nation’s next stab at building a prosperous national economy. Put the money in the hands of those who can harness local and regional resources and make something useful out of them. It can be fruit, a manufactured product, or a service like data processing. The result is a community that, although not immune to the Wall Street tsunami, retains tangible assets that will survive the current storm.
This real economy is working right now in the Wenatchee Valley. It also exists in many other communities and regions throughout the nation, from the Dakota plains to the energy corridor around Houston, and the growing industrial districts of the Southeast. These places represent the bright face of America’s future economy. If only they were taken more seriously by those – our nation’s leaders and so-called financial wizards – who are now driving us towards an era of darker expectations.
Delore Zimmerman is President of Praxis Strategy Group and Publisher of NewGeography.com