May 28, 2016
Needs and Wants
Most of the things we buy are wants. And we call them needs, but they’re wants.
– Dave Ramsey
An American financial author, radio host and TV personality.
Dear Mobile County (AL) Commissioners Hudson, Ludgood and Carl,
I’m writing in response to the cover story, “Lofty Goals”, which appeared recently in The Lagniappe about the proposed $60 million soccer ($20 million) and aquatic complex near the I-10 and I-65 interchange. I’ve been following this story with great interest since its announcement, in the media, several years ago. From reading this latest piece, Commissioner Connie Hudson’s efforts to bring this project to life with any deal that she can strike is coming off as looking pretty desperate. It’s been my experience that forcing opportunities into reality rarely have favorable outcomes. They usually require a set of factors to all go right without having a single failure. If you substituted this idea for a romance, one might call Mrs. Hudson “a crazy woman”. This government venture has the makings of being Mobile’s next GulfQuest – a maritime museum located on the Mobile River that was too big, too expensive with no pent-up demand for it. When making any purchase be it for one’s self, for the family or for the community, one only has to ask is this a need or is this somebody’s want?
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs — (start at the bottom and go up.)
In our Western culture, in the best of situations many of us grew up in homes where our basic need for love and belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization were never encouraged or met and now, as adults, we continue to struggle with getting these same needs met. In poorer communities, families may struggle to consistently get their physiological needs, safety and security needs met much less emotional and bonding needs. In lieu of these unmet needs, we’re always pursuing the drug known as “Christmas morning” or “birthday presents”. As addicts, we’ve developed an endless list of wants never knowing long-term peace, freedom and happiness. We’re all too disturbed by our consumer-driven economy.
“Quite simply, the economic definition of a need is something needed to survive. In economics, the idea of survival is real, meaning someone would die without their needs being met. This includes things like food, water, and shelter.
A want, in economics, is one step up in the order from needs and is simply something that people desire to have, that they may, or may not, be able to obtain. Again, with those two simple definitions, it doesn’t seem like there should be much to talk about, but there is. Economics deals with how we allocate scarce resources, and those scarce resources may be needed to meet someone people’s needs and other people’s wants. So, we do need to talk about wants and needs.
Imagine a farmer of barely. After his harvest he can has two potential customers: one that wants to buy his barely in the hopes to make an import beer and the other that wants to use the barely to make bread. Most people, if answering seriously, could acknowledge that bread is more important in a healthy diet than beer. Who does the farmer sell to? Should the reason someone wants to buy his product matter? Shouldn’t he just sell for the highest price? These are the difficult questions about wants and needs that economics struggles to answer.”
For many affiliated with the University of South Alabama, they believed that starting South’s football program was a great necessity filling a need by allowing the school to bring its administration, its faculty, students, alumni and their fans together on Saturday afternoons in the fall, like so many other colleges do. Many call football and basketball programs at these schools, their front porch from, which all that pass by see and first learn about the university. To others including faculty, they may see South’s football program as somebody’s want in the president’s suite or in the school’s boardroom as being one big waste of money and time that takes away from the school’s primary mission. In truth, most colleges and universities lose lots of money on their big time sports programs. Many see it as the cost of doing business.
The question is whether the proposed soccer and aquatic complex is a real community need or just a want of Commissioner Hudson’s. Who’s the real customer, our local teams playing games that will spend little or no money or All-Star teams coming in from out of town that will require hotel rooms and restaurants? Wrapped up in every want is usually someone’s ego, some organization’s ego or the community’s that’s trying to bring something into reality that might or might not be needed. Purchasing a practical need is always cheaper than buying an expensive, possibly risky want to solve that same need and more.
Today, we live in culture where individuals, families, businesses and our own governments can shop anywhere and buy anything with credit that they may or may not otherwise be able to afford. We have a car market where prices for used cars start as low as $300 for an old fixer upper and where new cars begin at $20,000 and go up to several hundred thousand dollars for a Bentley, for a Lamborghini… One poor man’s purchase for a $2,000 used car for basic transportation is a real need while a wealthier man’s purchase of a $90,000 BWM is a want. With his purchase, he wants to make a statement while getting from point A to point B. In America, we have every product and service for sale at different price points, in different stores.
From what I’ve seen watching the news coverage, Mobile County employees have been pretty outspoken in their opposition to this project and their need for better pay and benefits while the Mobile District Attorney’s office just won a lawsuit in the Alabama State Supreme Court against y’all, same county commissioners, to be properly funded so that she can carry out the duties of her office. So, do you raise the money to plug these holes with a new hotel tax or do you ignore their “needs” and “invest it” in this want, this expensive project that has no guarantee of being successful? If you’re going to borrow money, is this the best idea that the Mobile County Commissioners can come up with?
Who would go shopping for a new car (or for anything) where there’s only one car for sale on the entire lot and it cost tens of millions of dollars? Isn’t that what Commissioner Hudson is basically asking of her fellow Commissioners Ludgood and Carl? Sounds crazy! Who in their right mind shops this way? In the art world, there’s a famous quote by Pablo Picasso and it goes like this, “good artists copy and great artists steal!” If this project is designed to compete against south Baldwin County or Destin, FL with its condos, hotels, restaurants, white beaches and blue water, Mobile’s soccer complex will never succeed because it has none of these amenities. When building something new developers go over and above what the market already offers, you don’t build something that’s less.
Residents of Birmingham, AL, Atlanta, GA, Jackson, MS, Baton Rouge, LA… who have a chance to go to the beach for a quick weekend while their kids play soccer aren’t going to see a soccer and aquatic complex sitting in the middle of the woods that’s located off Halls Mill Road as an equal choice to Orange Beach. To them, it’s not this one or the other. Don’t put yourself in competition with Baldwin County’s beaches; I don’t think you’ll ever win. If the project fails economically, you’ve got to live with it.
There’s a big push to make Mobile the next destination spot, but it won’t work until one major and complex issue is addressed. The city of Mobile suffers from a number of quality of life issues that’s dragging the city down including a thriving arts community, a grand park, world-class attractions, quality jobs, good schools and a low crime rate. Pride in the city is artificial and it only rises like the tide when the beer is flowing and revelers are parading through downtown. Mobile has a lot of unmet needs that have to be addressed before more wants are purchased that put a dent in the economy.
If you’re looking to create a project in Mobile County that’s great for all residents, great for their spirits and just may bring in tourist dollars than steal a popular idea from New Orleans, from Savannah, from Charleston, from San Francisco, from Paris, but not from your next door neighbor. Don’t paint your front door the same color as your neighbor’s; don’t compete with Baldwin County for the same business — soccer tournaments. That’s tacky. The world is bigger than that. What this city and this county’s leaders suffer from is the inability to imagine, to dream big, to come up with a game-changing idea.
Since Mayor Stimpson entered office, I’ve made several suggestions to him that he should pursue to address some of these quality of life issues for residents and for our economy. First move the Mobile Regional Airport back to Brookley Field. It’s the difference between having your bathroom located just off your bedroom and having an outhouse standing way-out in your backyard. On a cold night when you got to” go”, which one do you want to pay a visit to and sit on? Second, I suggested that he help establish a performing arts college or something in downtown, similar, to SCAD in Savannah and house it in Barton Academy. This would bring more college students from out of state, increase residents and young workers while bringing more life to our downtown.
Lastly, all great cities have great parks and big ones, at that. All great cities on the water have great parks fronting them or, at least, have access to them. It’s the source of life as residents’ picnic and their kids play games on the grass while others walk, run, bike and push strollers down the sidewalk. I’ve, personally, witnessed this in Tampa, FL’s Hyde Park area, which lines the bay, in Charleston, SC harbor, on San Francisco’s bay, in San Diego, CA’s harbor and in Fairhope. Mayor Stimpson whose working really hard is focusing his efforts on the Mobile River, which I don’t think will ever work for various reasons. One being there’s no real demand.
When we look back at our life, sometimes we’re glad that some things didn’t work out like we wanted , such as, a relationship in college or that first job we so desperately wanted because we thought it would solve all our immediate financial problems. Look how passing on this project could better prepare the county for the next opportunity when it arises and it doesn’t come at the expense of one’s integrity.
If you are dying to spend $20 million dollars, I would strongly encourage you to purchase the old Gulf Pines Golf Course at Brookley Field from USA’s Foundation, which fronts Mobile Bay. I would suggest you install a beach, build a pier like Fairhope’s, hire a world-class landscape architect to design the entire grounds with gardens and a gazebo. It could be a natural destination for all city and county residents, a place for outdoor weddings, maybe a venue for concerts, fishing, crabbing and plane watching. You might even find enough room to build those soccer fields. Once the airport relocates there then maybe a hotel or resort could be built on the grounds. Then you have a more compelling story to tell in recruiting soccer tournaments to Mobile. I’m reminded of our local rugby team that plays at Battleship Memorial Park. Their opponents who come from around the south and even outside the country love playing on the bay with the USS Alabama anchored nearby. The setting is one of a kind. They have no problem bringing teams into town and putting on their tournament.
Commissioner Hudson’s idea could be improved upon if located in the right place. When I posted my airport idea as an online petition to Mayor Stimpson it quickly went viral over the Christmas 2014 holidays resulting in 500 plus area petitioners, over 700 Facebook likes and lots of comments. I garnered two TV interviews and one newspaper interview. The idea struck a nerve because the timing is right. Many recognized a great idea when they heard it. It’s a no brainer. I don’t get that same feeling with this soccer and aquatic complex. As a resident of Daphne, I can’t put into words the value of the bay and what it means to our residents living up and down the Eastern Shore with round the clock access to it, its beaches, a steady breeze, parks, gorgeous sunsets and lots of wildlife. It’s 2016 and Mobile continues to turn its back on such an obvious gem. I continue to believe that our city fathers want to control their neighbors, limiting their outlets for pleasure, their access to nature while keeping everyone all cooped up. So, there’s a low quality of life to be had in Mobile, no tourism to be found, lots of crummy jobs and everyone wonders why crime is a problem.
See the list of failed sports complexes.
Index: (Failed sports complexes)
AJC.com – Youth sports parks attract interest, but few built, http://www.ajc.com/news/business/youth-sports-parks-attract-interest-but-few-built/nQwzT/
Lincoln Journal Star – Ex-soccer club leader files for bankruptcy, http://journalstar.com/business/local/ex-soccer-club-leader-files-for-bankruptcy/article_854a46d4-c449-5ca3-887d-4e0afe78f203.html
Tampa Bay Tribune – Pasco leaders to take another look at building sports complex, http://www.tbo.com/pasco-county/pasco-leaders-to-take-another-look-at-building-sports-complex-20150924/
Virginia Beach sports complex unfinished, up for sale, http://pilotonline.com/news/local/virginia-beach-sports-complex-unfinished-up-for-sale/article_b7d38028-3fde-5719-a9b5-92b8d1732181.html
Why Sports Facilities Fail, http://www.sportsfacilityexpert.com/2013/10/30/why-sports-facilities-fail/
The Difference Between Wants vs. Needs in Economics, http://study.com/academy/lesson/the-difference-between-wants-vs-needs-in-economics.html
Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved. “Needs and Wants” by Ted Burnett