Much has been written about the importance of quality of life in economic development programs. A major element in analyzing an area’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is that of quality of life. Most would agree that once the business case has been made, quality of life plays a pivotal role in finalizing the short list of where a company will locate, or remain for that matter.
While it is fairly easy to develop a lengthy list of those things that constitute quality of life, it means different things to different people. So how does a company go about determining an area’s quality of life? How can you be certain that your company will want to live, work and play there? Who is responsible for ensuring it exists? How does quality of life happen? And finally, what are the payoffs to those companies that find communities that work hard to protect and enhance their quality of life?
When asked about writing an article on quality of life, I wondered what I could say that had not already been said. Then, several things happened. I attended a presentation by Hewlett-Packard’s CEO Carly Fiorina, who delivered a wonderful presentation to nearly one thousand business professionals in Boise. Then I sat in on a meeting of local economic development volunteers, re-examining their community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. I also gained some insight when listening to comments made by the Mayor of Boise in her recent State of the City speech. And then I read a promotional brochure for our region, circa 1907. These four happenings led me to a clear picture of what quality of life is, why it is important, how it is achieved, how it is maintained, and who is responsible.
What is Quality of Life, and Why is it Important (Hewlett-Packard)?
Celebrating Hewlett Packard’s 30th year in our community, Carly Fiorina delivered a message that for me, brought both elation and concern. Much of what she said was very flattering for our community, saying, “…we have been delighted to be part of your past, and I am here to tell you today that we are equally committed to being an important part of your future.” Her recounting of why Hewlett Packard came to our community in the first place no more clearly demonstrates the relationship between “quality of life” and a strong business climate.
Her examination of H-P’s archives turned up some interesting notes written by one of their founders, Bill Hewlett. He visited our community in 1975, some three years after the company settled here. In his notes he asked a basic question, “What are we doing here?” His reasons were revealing. First, it was part of HP’s plan to expand outside of California (today HP has 140,000 employees, in 167 countries, and in all 50 U.S. states). The second reason he listed was that our community is a good place to live. Ms. Fiorina’s response to this comment is a classic statement for the importance of quality of life. She said, “I think what Bill understood that day is the same thing that Dick Hackborn realized in 1977, when he packed up our disc business and moved it to Boise:
"A good quality of life is like oxygen for innovation and ingenuity and imagination and creativity. "
She went on to say that, “If you combine all that with an educated and inclusive community; good research institutions; an active local chamber of commerce dedicated to the community; energetic elected officials who are committed to promoting the region; and an attractive investment climate, you have all the ingredients for business magic…All of the elements that lend themselves to an entrepreneurial culture, to innovative success, are present here in Boise. We think this is one of the best places to do business in the world—and you should be proud of that.”
What a wonderful testament to one’s community and region. This was no idle boast. HP is the #9 innovator in the world. The company’s engineers and inventors in our community file about 2,000 patent applications a year. How often do a community and a region receive this kind of accolade?
How is Quality of Life Achieved? (Community Participation)
What Carly Fiorina observed is that it is no accident that our community and region are considered one of today’s cutting-edge high-tech communities in the United States. But how does a community get there? What has to happen that leads to creation of an excellent quality of life? As stated in the beginning of this writing, assisting a group of volunteers in one of my smaller member communities led to what I believe to be at least a partial answer to these questions.
As part of rather lengthy strategic planning effort in this community, a cross section of representatives were going through the process of deciding what their community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats were. After listening to the discussion for several sessions, it occurred to me rather strongly that this is at least where “quality of life” for community often begins. Here was a group of men and women, representing business and government, critically analyzing those elements that go into making up the character of their community. But even more, they were planning for what kind of community they and others want it to be. This was not the first time community leaders had polled their citizenry to help define the community character.
Today, that community stands as an example of positive results of nurturing its unique quality of life and its contribution to our region. It offers a unique mix of residential areas, upscale business parks, and a unique downtown that has preserved the qualities of its past. Additionally, each of our member communities is going through a similar process of identifying those things that will enhance their quality of life: each preserving its unique character.
What Maintains Quality of Life? (Vision and Leadership)
Another testament to the importance of quality of life can be found in a recent “state of the city” speech give by Boise Mayor, Carolyn Terteling-Payne. After citing a litany of accomplishments that focused on neighborhoods; preservation of our foothills; the Arts; low incidence of crime; city cleanliness; affordable housing, and a host of other items many believe critical to quality of life, she cautioned the audience not to become too comfortable.
Indeed, she went on to say, “I believe we must first admit up front that in order to maintain this great quality of life we all enjoy, we cannot stand still. We need to grow, but with vision. We will need to focus on becoming a total but a selective competitor, in multiple areas—and to do that we need a broader, longer term vision for this entire valley—a strategic plan so to speak.”
She went on to say that while we may think of ourselves as cosmopolitan and accomplished, “…to be truly competitive, to attract the best and the brightest, we need also to be open to diversity of thought and ethnicity.”
Who Is Responsible for Quality of Life?
After considering the comments and actions of H-P’s Carly Fiorina, the group of volunteers, and those of the Mayor, several answers to the questions posed in the beginning of the writing came to mind.
From its basic characteristics of education, environment, crime and involvement, quality of life can be defined as the sum of these elements. From a business perspective, a good quality of life can serve as a catalyst for innovation and ingenuity. In order to achieve a good quality of life, several elements must be present. An active citizenry is critical to developing and maintaining a community’s quality of life. Strong leadership, both public and private, must lead the way with a vision for the future. Quality of life happens when leaders and citizens commit themselves to its creation over time. It does not happen overnight and is subject to challenges every day in one form or another.
Finally I would submit that if communities are going to provide the environment within which individuals and businesses are going to thrive, then each has a responsibility to share the burdens of preserving those things which brought them to the community in the first place. As much as the citizenry and civic leadership are responsible, so is the corporate community. This is not a new concept. Consider this quote from a 1907 promotional brochure done for Boise and its region:
“If you are desirous of changing your abiding place, and are a progressive citizen, willing to help share the burdens as well as share the advantages of the community in which you make your home, your welcome among us will be most cordial, and we believe you are missing the opportunity of a lifetime if you fail to visit our city.” -Boise brochure, from “The Afterword” Circa 1907