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February 2020
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Old-fashioned business sense is best route for development

As anyone who has driven through  Tate knows, the  heart of the area’s marble mining heritage looks good again.

Not only good, but vibrant. Business is being conducted on the renovated street with Armor Plumbing, Mimi’s Eats & Treats, 53 Market, and (soon to be) Bell Pharmacy in action in a strip that was booming in the early to mid-1900s, but has suffered decline in recent decades.

There is both form and function in Tate: the buildings look attractive and they do attract customers.

What may not be apparent but deserves a rousing ovation is the Tate resurgence was done the good, old-fashioned way, through private enterprise.

In an article in the November 15th edition of this paper, the owners/builders Scott and Tina O’Conner told how they had previously renovated other buildings (including the former NAPA building in Jasper) and had driven through Tate daily when it was mostly vacant and falling into dilapidation. 

When the couple initially tried to buy the buildings, the price was too high, and the buildings sat there with for sale signs  for years. The entire area was listed on eBay once with no takers. When the bank lowered the price, the developers moved and work got underway.

There is an important aspect noticeably absent in this timeline. At no point did the couple apply for a bunch of government grants or appeal to the economic development council or seek special perks from the government.

They thought it was a sound investment and they acted.

These buildings are opened and productive because small business owners viewed them as an opportunity to create viable rental spaces - and the current tenants looked at the site and believed they could profit by locating there.

It is striking to contrast the results of these capitalists putting their own assets to work and the still-empty depot building in Tate. That building is nicely restored thanks to more than $1 million in federal grants and it sits empty several years after the renovation because no one has any skin in the game.

No bureaucrat is looking over their books and pondering how to recoup the substantial investment poured into the structure. Some people in local groups and local government may be proud that the building was saved. But saved for what? If only to sit empty, the end certainly doesn’t justify the tax dollars.

This is a perfect example of how you can’t dictate economics or small town commerce from a government office or from a vocal segment of the public. We would all like to have shops/restaurants/services that we want, but it’s not government responsibility to meddle in business. Nor should we expect someone to invest their money to open bicycle shops or book shops just because a few people really think we should have one – as local business history has shown (both the book store and bike store on Main Street Jasper were short-lived).  

There are always calls at public hearings for our politicians to do something to bring more or specific businesses here.

Tate is the refutation of this notion. When the time and price and people involved are right, commerce flows. There might (very rarely) be a time for some government-supplied carrots. For example if a company with high wages and plans to hire quite a few people seeks to come into an empty building, then, yeah, open and upfront perks from the public coffers might be extended.

But, in general, a level playing field is all any government should be expected to offer for prospective businesses. That and staying out of the way so private business can do what it does best make locations thrive. Kudos to the small business owners who have breathed live back into the historic Tate area and further congratulations for doing it the old-fashioned American way.