The Long Way Home 4.28.23

While moving eight to ten inches of what I hope is the last big winter storm of the season I found myself pondering some of the economic and life lessons I keep bumping up against. Nothing like the routine of filling a sleigh shovel and sliding it to the side of the drive to open up the mind for pondering.

My mother-in-law was widowed quite young, and she chose George Guthrie when she married again a few years later. George, unlike me, was an educated man. He held an MBA and had spent his working years with Soo Line Railroad as its Director of Corporate Planning. His experience with strategy and accounting was most helpful when I ran for the Minnesota Legislature. 

George was not the most sociable of chaps, but he found me brilliant and shared lots of good stuff with me whenever we were together..

He told me that transportation leads to development. Most every major city developed on a port or near the confluence of two or more rivers. Transportation.

To connect those cities, railroads were built. Along the railroads, development of agriculture and manufacturing rose. Many towns sprung up just to service the railroads. Las Vegas, NV is an example of that. In that vast desert, available water in The Meadows (Las Vegas translated) allowed the railroads a place to fill thirsty locomotives.  

Logging, fishing, and mining developed in our region because of the transportation networks on Lake Superior. To further transportation, rugged trails that connected our region to the port city of Duluth were paved and US Highway 61 was created. In more recent years the highway was improved. Hills were leveled, curves were straightened, and tunnels were drilled to replace some treacherous cliffside stretches perched perilously over the big lake. An Expressway connected Duluth to Two Harbors and sections of passing lanes were built between Two Harbors and Silver Bay. The highway 61 improvements allowed local businesses easier access to suppliers and customers and led to a rapid increase in tourism and real estate development.

George was right. Transportation leads to development. 

My pondering continued to how stuff expands to fill the space allotted to it. No matter how big you build your garage, cars almost always lose out to bikes, golf clubs, lawn mowers, and blue sleigh snow shovels. 

No matter how much storage space you build into your home, the holiday decorations, old clothes, family photos, and the general paperwork of life spill out of it.

It’s also true that organizations--business and government--see employee growth outpacing the space--financial and physical--allotted to it.

So I’m not surprised that Cook County is trying to figure out how to get more office space as it considers its so-called Capital Improvement Plan for County Buildings. 

The county reported 5,188 residents in 2013. In 2020 population numbered 5,417, a relatively modest increase of five percent over seven years. In 2013, county staffing was the equivalent of 104 full time positions. Now, it is 126 positions. An increase of more than 21%. Apparently those positions (people) need more space now and the county is considering a significant addition to the courthouse to house them. Transportation leads to development. Stuff expands to exceed its space. And “positions” expand beyond the space allocated to them.