Happy New Year

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what’s true and what’s not. Much about the work I’ve been doing for the past 30-plus years is arguable. Is the town better or worse for investing in one thing over another? People on opposing sides of an argument can make a case to support a variety of different conclusions. Some things, however, are objectively true; and some are not.

Despite a drumbeat of criticism from a few individuals over how difficult it is to build, do business, or live in Albany, more people keep moving here. Albany has grown steadily over the last decade, with population increasing from about 48,000 in 2005 to more than 52,000 in 2016. Subdivisions, apartment buildings, individual homes, and senior living facilities have all been constructed over the past few years; and the rate currently seems to be increasing. Albany’s growth may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on an individual’s point of view, but it is also an undeniable fact.

Growth in population has been accompanied by growth in investment and value. Even when accounting for the most significant recession of my lifetime, property values today are significantly higher than they were a decade ago. It makes sense that as more people choose to live here, the value of our property will continue to increase. Albany’s growth has also meant more visitors (or at least more money from visitors) as transient lodging tax receipts have increased dramatically over the past three years.

The size of city government has declined over the past several years. Some people complain about how government always grows, but Albany now has fewer employees than we did in 2008. Our ratio of employees to residents is lower than it has been during the past dozen years or longer. Again, a strong argument can be made that smaller government during a time of population growth is not a positive trend if you value City services, but the actual number of employees is not subject to debate.

Most people seem to believe that the number of government employees and the size of government have grown explosively in recent times. The actual numbers do not support this belief, either in Albany or the nation as a whole. There were about 4.2 million federal government employees in 2014 as compared to 5.35 million in 1962. The federal workforce grew to much larger levels during the Vietnam War (more than 6.6 million) and has declined fairly steadily since. Even considering the growth in state workers, the overall percentage of government workers has been on a downward trend for decades. According to Business Insider in 2015, “Government employment since the 1970s has grown at a slower rate than employment overall, causing the proportion of government employees among total employees to remain on a mostly downward trend over the last 30 years. As of December, about 15.6% of all employees worked for the government. The last time the percentage was lower than its current level was in August 1960.”

My hope for the New Year is that I will pay more attention to fact and less to opinion. A quotation I’ve often heard attributed to various people summarizes the issue nicely regardless of who said it: “It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble. It’s the things we know that just ain’t so.” Much of what we hear and see today just ain’t so; and given our easy access to reliable information, I believe we have a greater obligation to figure out the truth than we have been exercising.

Merry Christmas

Tomorrow, most of us will begin our Christmas celebration by spending a long weekend with family. My wife and I will be driving over the mountains to Gateway, Oregon, where my in-laws have lived on a small acreage for the past 50+ years. Many things have changed in my life during that time, but the house in Gateway and the people who inhabit it have been a constant for nearly 45 years. As much as I would like some things to never change, I know our Christmas celebrations will be different before long.

The City of Albany is changing, too. Many of the people I’ve worked with over the years have moved on to new jobs or retirement, and I will be joining them in July. I have been privileged to work here for the past dozen years, and I know I will miss the chance to collaborate with so many talented people every day. I am optimistic, however, about the future.

Albany remains a relatively small community with enough growth to create economic opportunities, but not so much that we are overwhelmed by problems. Our financial condition is stable enough to provide current services, even though there is never enough to do all that could be justified. Among the most exciting new developments are a few new high tech businesses that create the prospect for high paying jobs and other forms of investment. Albany’s proximity to Oregon State University is a major asset in a world where the value of knowledge and applied research is growing every day. Amenities like the carousel, restaurants, and downtown shops are also attracting more people who are discovering that Albany is a nice place to live.

Changes at the national level and in my personal life sometimes cause pessimism to creep in; but, on balance, I feel very fortunate to live when and where I do. Albany is not a likely target of international terrorists, and we have escaped the increases in violent crime that have plagued cities like Chicago. Albany is even in a comparatively good position to weather climate change in comparison to coastal communities or places with limited water supplies. We are also at the center of a strong, regional health care complex that offers many options for those in need of treatment.

Among the several advantages of my upcoming retirement is the luxury of living more in the moment with fewer concerns about what might happen later. Changes and challenges occur throughout our lives, so there is little point dwelling on what might happen. Hope is a powerful gift available to all of us, and my wish for this season is that we might all appreciate the good in our lives and our opportunity to make them even better.