Grow or Die

Chris CollinsChris Collins gave a speech at the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership graduation ceremony on Wednesday, at which 50 small business leaders (aka “the students”) were honored for successful completion of the year-long course. The speech was focused on the rise of entrepreneurialism in Western New York, CEL’s advancement of it and its growing importance in the Western New York economy.

Collins’ speech got a little off-target at times, becoming somewhat political when he blasted the latest state legislation to move the merger of ECMC and Kaleida Health along. I didn’t understand how any of that related to either entrepreneurs or to CEL, and it sounded very much like venting on the County Executive’s part.

But one memorable comment that Chris made was a slam against Harvard Professor Ed Glaeser, who came to Buffalo in April to discuss how Buffalo needs to stop aiming for the glory days of high population and heavy industry, and rather shrink to success. Collins couldn’t have been more critical of this approach. “What is every company’s motto?” he asked, and then answered: “Grow or die.” Collins felt that Western New York on the whole needs to grow, not shrink, or it will die.  He said that his predecessors used to define success as less decline than last year; Chris pointed out that this inevitably leads to more decline.

I respectfully disagree with Collins criticism of Glaeser; he latched onto Glaeser’s sound bite without appreciation of the detail. Glaeser’s point was that infrastructure of all types has to represent the size of the urban environment today, not what it was 50 years ago or 50 years from now.  Buffalo has too much stuff for its population size and the support of that stuff is a real problem:  Too many houses, too much municipality, too much government.

In particular, with respect to government, the application of growth in all layers of government is what has helped make New York state – and especially upstate – the economic disaster that it has become. High taxes to pay for that government, plus unprecedented layers of bureaucracy and legislation have fueled much of our state’s paralysis and made it exceptionally unattractive to business. The growth of government has led to the shrinkage of our economy, and as a result, our population.

If anything, Collins should take Glaeser’s comments to heart and help shrink county government to help Western New York along the road to health. Collins needs to help get government off our backs, and he’s in a position to do just that.  I think that’s his goal.  I just don’t think he said it well last night.

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