Government, business share traits

Published 9:42 am Monday, May 13, 2013

It is a common mantra that most of us have heard — or even said — for years: Government should operate like a business.

But is that realistic?

Ultimately, it depends on who you ask and how you view the role of government.

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At the federal level it may be too big to completely achieve, but locally it certainly appears to be a realistic goal and smart policy.

The goals of government and business are parallel in that both offer goods or services. The major difference is that businesses focus on making a profit while government simply focuses on providing services to citizens.

But the model can be very similar. Both must focus on serving the “consumers” as well as possible. Any “profits” in government must be reinvested into the community and growth for the future.

In some ways the view of what government is supposed to do has gotten skewed to be focused on creating jobs instead of providing services in the most efficient manner.

As state and federal funding continues to shrink, it will become vitally important that local governments like Ironton and Lawrence County correct this mindset at all costs.

Recently I asked Mayor Rich Blankenship some questions about how the city operates. He answered those in part by giving me a tour of some of the city’s facilities including the water treatment plant, sewer plant and others.

I have done this before but it was interesting for the refresher on some of the behind-the-scenes ways the city operates, something the mayor plans to offer to the public in the future.

The first thing that becomes clear is that the city has intelligent, experienced workers who want to serve the community. For the most part, these men and women really do care.

Sometimes critiques of how the city operates, or any government for that matter, are taken as attacks on the workers themselves. That shouldn’t be the case.

But every service or function of government should be scrutinized. In the end, it is about what is best for all citizens.

On every aspect, our leaders should ask themselves: Is there a better way to do this? Is this something that government should even provide? Should it be contracted out? Do we need this many shifts? Do we need this many employees per shift? Are the resources being used wisely? Are managers doing their jobs and holding workers accountable?

Those are tough questions to ask and not everyone will like the answers.

The results could certainly require public unions to concede certain jobs or functions if those can be done cheaper and more efficiently by the private sector.

The city has asked some of these questions. Others must still be addressed.

Because, once again, the ultimate goal is providing services to our citizens. Government officials and elected leaders should never lose sight of this.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, smartly said, “Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everybody else is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going in exactly the opposite direction.”

Some of the smartest people in the world say that succeeding in business requires constant analysis of what you are doing and why you do it, complete focus on the customers and the willingness to re-invent yourself as needed.

It should be just the same for government.


Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.