When in economic development conversations with government officials, investors, and concerned community members, the tension is always revealed at a certain point in the dialogue.

Usually it comes in the form of either (or both) of the assertions below:

In the past, one person (typically a politician, or group of politicians) provided the authoritative voice that told every other person, political party, or community member what was going to happen.

In the present, one person (typically a politician, or group of politicians) no longer exists with the authoritative voice that tells every other person, political party, or community member, what is going to happen in the future.

And then, typically, there’s a moment of silence and a sigh.

The tension between the imagined past (or actual past, as in the case of Walter Cronkite versus Lyndon Johnson) and the current day reveals a nostalgia for centralized control, a reduction in the clamoring of voices for attention in the public square, and the desire for speed in change.

  • Was there an authoritative voice in the past that stated “how it was going to be,” or was that also an illusion?
  • Was there a centralized authority that “flattened” choices in the past, making everyone in a community conform, or is that just a myth that we tell ourselves in the present in hindsight?
  • Was there more progress yesterday than there is today, because yesterday people in the community knew not to ask for permission, and instead followed orders?

The conflict—or tension—between remembering a simple imagined past (nostalgia) and living through an uncomfortable present, won’t be resolved by a centralized voice—if it ever could be.

Instead, the development of new ways of persuading, convincing, caring, and telling stories that resonate must combine with patience to accomplish an economic future we can all experience the benefits of.