Silly me.

I was reminded the other day of something I have mentioned previously in this space – a party game that can be applied to many different aspects of our everyday lives.

The game involves two people standing at tables that are filled with pieces to two jigsaw puzzles – one puzzle for each of them. The game is actually a contest to see who can complete their puzzle the fastest. It is more fun to watch than to play because the spectators laugh as the participants frantically look for the pieces they need. You know the drill – find the corner pieces first and then work your way in.

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What the competitors don’t know is that before they began, one piece was removed from each of their puzzles. So when they hurriedly put the puzzle together and get down to the final piece, it is nowhere to be found. They look all over the table. They look on the floor beneath them. They look under their feet. Finally, the hosts let them in on the secret. The missing piece was actually, well, a missing piece.

Because my mind works in strange ways, I was applying the puzzle example to the challenges that face economic development directors in North Iowa and across the nation.

All of them are pursuing possibilities of bringing new industries to their communities with a huge tax base, high-paying jobs and bright futures. The companies are looking for cities that would be the best fit for their businesses and for their employees.

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For the economic development people, there are endless pieces to the puzzle. Their challenge is to put the pieces together better than all of their competitors.

When McKesson, the Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company, chose Clear Lake for its warehouse and distribution center four years ago, it was a big victory for Clear Lake but a huge disappointment for Austin, Minnesota, which was a finalist. Austin officials said at the time they didn’t know how they fell short and McKesson provided no explanation. It seems superficial to say Clear Lake put all the pieces together and Austin didn’t – but that’s the way economic development often works.

When Mason City was vying for the Prestage pork processing plant three years ago, the City Council turned it down by a 3-3 tie vote. In that instance, one of the missing pieces turned out to be public confidence in the company although there were many other factors.

Economic development is a humbling business. If you win one out of 100, you’ve done a great service for your community in bringing in a new industry but it’s hard to keep your chin up after those 99 near-misses.

Mason City has been working for six years on the River City Renaissance Project and is close to having a development agreement signed, or so we are told. Are the pieces all there? We’ll see.

Hopefully, nobody will tip over the table.

Silly me.

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