Curb your enthusiasm, but keep working

When a community is battered long enough by economic instability, it develops a response to positive news best captured by that sitcom title, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

It happens because economic instability brings a steady succession of good news announcements that are followed by disappointment (to wit, the empty lot next to the Brockville Museum) or, perhaps worse, long periods of silence (witness the Blockhouse Square development, or plans to commercialize the old Black and Decker plant).

This is hardly a new phenomenon. Mention “Fantasia” to anyone who was around here a dozen years ago and the response will likely involve turning to look away in shame.

It's now reached the point where, seemingly, good news arrives with hardly any enthusiasm left to curb.

The response to recent news of the former Abbott Laboratories plant being sold might have, in different circumstances, been met with jubilation. Instead, Mayor David Henderson all but said, from the get-go: “OK, folks, curb your enthusiasm until something actually happens.”

One can hardly blame him. In this latest case, the man behind the Abbott purchase is embroiled in legal disputes related to a similar facility in Scarborough, issues that are or are not a big deal, depending on who one asks.

That would be enough to worry the community about any transaction, even though litigation is not unusual in the business world.

Perhaps more worrisome is the very premise behind this latest deal.

How, exactly, does one make money manufacturing milk products for sale to a market on the other side of the globe? Does the business plan depend on gas prices being indefinitely low to make it even moderately affordable to ship all this stuff to Vancouver?

What little communication we've had with the proponents suggests there will be at least some dealings with the United States, which may make the plan a bit more palatable.

Nonetheless, we have a project with an uncertain business plan, apparently run by a man facing uncertain circumstances. Consider our enthusiasm curbed.

But the matter doesn't end there, because there is no moving forward without addressing the obvious follow-up question: How do we improve our economy when we have little or no enthusiasm about it?

The primitive response, so far, has been to blame the situation on the people entrusted with developing Brockville's economy. If only we had better politicians and economic developers, the thinking goes, we'd get real projects that we could all get behind unconditionally – like a Toyota plant.

The evidence, however, points to a more realistic conclusion: We are a small city in a big province that may or may not be recovering from a manufacturing meltdown, a small city with an aging population showing sluggish or nonexistent growth.

We are not the kind of city that is ever in the running for a Toyota plant.

At best, we are the kind of city that can land projects loaded with question marks.

Once we accept that, there is only one way to proceed: We keep looking for and landing those questionable projects, knowing that the odds will be in favour of at least one or two of them succeeding.

When that first one succeeds, we try even harder to make a second one succeed, and after a while those successes make Brockville look a little bit better to prospective employers.

After that, perhaps, we might be justified in regaining some enthusiasm.

That could actually happen, but nobody promised it will be easy or quick.

So, keep your enthusiasm curbed, but for godsake stop whining and keep working.