BeloWatch

News spotlights new form of economic development
Leave it to the Morning News to find the silver lining in the darkest storm cloud.

You could call it optimism, the upbeat attitude perfusing Dallas' Only Daily that always seeks to make the best of a bad situation--that believes tomorrow will always be better as long as hope stirs in the human soul.

BeloWatch prefers to call it brainless.
We're speaking of business reporter Jane Seaberry's remarkable May 9 story, which unblinkingly offered the premise that the deadly, destructive storms that battered the Dallas area are good for the local economy.

How good?
According to the News, flat-out great.
"The storms that crushed cars and broke skylights are also expected to contribute more than $1 billion in total spending to the Dallas-Fort Worth economy and provide work for thousands of people," writes Seaberry, beneath the business section headline "Rough weather may add $1 billion to economy."

How does the News come to this conclusion?
As usual with its frequent stories about economic-development miracles, it relies on M. Ray Perryman, SMU professor, media-monger, and all-around economist-for-hire.

Before the bodies of the storm victims had been found--before all the puddles were even dry--Perryman had concluded that the estimated $500 million in damage "could result in $1.2 billion of spending for the local economy, mostly from insurance company checks."

According to the News story--hung mainly on Perryman's thinking--the economic miracle will work like this. "When the checks come in, contractors make the repairs and buy materials from suppliers, many of which are local...

"'Once the carpenters, the plumbers and technicians get their paychecks, they go out and buy food, clothing, gasoline, and a certain portion of that is spent in the Dallas area,' Dr. Perryman said."

According to Seaberry's story, Perryman "estimated that employment would increase substantially, at least for the short term, because of the storm."

Less than 72 hours after the floods receded, he offered a remarkably precise calculation of the coming boon: "He estimates the repair cleanup would require 12,925 'person years' of work. That could translate into 12,925 new jobs over a year, or 24,000 for six months.

Is he sure that's not 12,926 new jobs? And did he figure in the funeral directors' windfall?

"'A lot of these people will work six months, 18 months,' he said. Spread out over a year, the hiring could affect about 1 percent of employment, he said."

Two paragraphs of the story only obliquely visited the possibility that not all the storm's economic effects might be positive. But those, oddly enough, were impossible to quantify.

"Some economic effects are more difficult to measure," Seaberry wrote. "Businesses that weren't directly hit by wind or hail may have lost business or had to shut down because other services were affected, such as water, sewer, or electricity..."

Seaberry minimizes the harmful effects by quoting a University of Delaware "Disaster Research Center" study which found that "of the 42 percent of businesses that closed" after massive floods two years ago in Iowa, "only 15 percent had actually sustained direct flood damage. Most of the businesses shut their doors because of problems getting water, electricity, or other secondary problems."

There is no indication that those harmful effects--whatever they might be--played at all into Perryman's dubious calculations.

The problem with this story is that it utterly ignores the obvious.
That thousands of people were kept out of work or school for days because their workplaces were damaged or destroyed.

That some damaged homes and businesses aren't insured--and to their owners, as well as those they employ, the storm will prove devastating, creating mountains of debt, bankrupting small businesses and wiping out jobs.

That the massive rescue effort cost local governments millions in overtime for police and fire departments.

That the disruption of countless lives will decrease the efficiency of factories and offices across the region.

And that the damage will ultimately raise insurance premiums, taking money out of the pockets of Texans.

All that--and there's plenty more--fails to mention the proverbial Perryman "multiplier effect," which takes into consideration how dollars added to consumers' pockets ripple out and boost the economy further when they are spent. Or, in this case, how the dollars lost will hurt the economy even more.

Perryman has virtually made a career of quantifying the economic bonanza of every proposed corporate relocation, making himself one of Texas' most-quoted men--and a coveted hired gun for businesses eager to justify economic-development tax breaks they seek from government.

The problem is that his calculations are thinly based--and rarely consider the full costs and tradeoffs of the presumed bonanza.

What's even more remarkable is that the News could publish this unqualified, counterintuitive nonsense.

Reading Seaberry's story is enough to make you pray for rain. Or better yet, a hurricane.

First things first
Care for some newspaper with your advertising?
The Friday, May 5 edition of the Morning News is an example of an annoying phenomenon--editorial sections hidden inside advertising. Both the House & Garden section (well, we guess that's editorial) and the weekend Guide were smothered inside a special eight-page "advertising supplement," celebrating "National Tourism Week" and titled "Dallas Has it All!"

The ad supplement, filled, between the advertisements, with information (supplied by the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau) about what to see and do in Dallas, was wrapped around House & Garden, which was wrapped around the Guide--the News' section about what to see and do in Dallas.

Such advertorial sections are ubiquitous these days. The Observer is no exception. But it would be nice if Dallas' Only Daily didn't make it so hard to find the newspaper inside the advertising.

 
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