Fresh Air on the Menu

‘ve always found the concept of a menu appealing. For me menus have represented unlimited potential, the promise that by choosing wisely delight awaits aided by the misguided impression that with simplified choices you can’t go wrong.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a big, fat menu of options right now from which to choose solutions to the current economic crisis? Alas, these are not the types of choices that bring much satisfaction, let alone joy. While there is much talk of the options available, a recent meeting with Governor Jim Doyle made it clear that in many respects when it comes to his budget proposal for the next two years, his choices are severely limited by the historic national economic collapse. Forget the appetizers and dessert. We’re talking meat and potatoes only—control the deficit damage and repair what we can. The menu consists of More Jobs and More Cuts. New initiatives will have to wait.

It’s too bad because in many respects the Madison region is poised to expand its economic development efforts in new and potentially exciting ways. The December meeting of the Collaboration Council featured a State of the Madison Region report, which included an assessment of the region’s assets and opportunities that provides a blueprint for our economic growth. There was also a historic signing by the fifty-three business, government, education, community and civic leaders of the Regional Principles of Collaboration, principles that will put the long-term economic health of the region above the immediate gain of any one municipality. The regional economic development entity Thrive is up and running, supporting targeted sector development (like local agriculture) and job creation and it would be a shame if it were hampered by our inability to invest at the same time we’re absorbing the impact of the recession.

On top of that there are some things that simply can’t wait. Our air, for example. It is frightening to think of the damage that could be done to Thrive, this region, the city of Madison and every other surrounding community by regular appearances on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s dirty air list. That’s where we are right now. It’s called non-attainment and it means we have an unhealthy amount of fine particle pollution. And while we will be off the list come April this is scary stuff—scary enough that the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Kraft Foods, and Madison Gas and Electric Company have joined other local government, state, business and education partners on the Dane County Clean Air Coalition.

You may be familiar with the coalition from the occasional summertime Clean Air Action Days, when we were offered free bus rides and asked to reduce of use of air conditioners and gas law mowers. The coalition is expanding its efforts now to declare Clean Air Action Days year-round. Case in point—fine particles from fireplace fires. Using clean, dry wood can keep the romance but lose the pollution. And that’s just one small seasonal example.

This is a crucial public health issue. Think of the response of the young, educated and creative entrepreneurs we’re trying to attract here, or keep here, to a description of this region including non-attainment with federal clean air standards. Finding that on their location menus would likely have them looking for whole different restaurants with which to do their business. Check out for ideas on what you can do to help keep clean air one more reason to live here.

Neil P. Heinen, Editorial Director

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