Two weeks ago, I posted a simple question about Whitewater’s former Hawthorn Mellody milk plant: “If there had been no milk processing plant in Whitewater, would the city have constructed digester capacity as large as it now has, for importing waste into the city from other locations?”

That’s seemingly a question about a waste-importation proposal, but it’s really a question about economic development.

I posed the question because there’s more than one way to advance a community’s economy, local government’s fiscal condition, and the long-term prospects of both.

One could, for example, (1) provide the smallest possible local government, (2) provide expansive public services, or (3) develop some level of public incentives to spur private growth.  The first is a minimal government approach, the second a social welfare approach, and the third a conventional public-private partnership.

Whitewater has primarily adopted that third approach, for about a generation.  Whatever one thinks of that approach (and I have been a critic), it is a model that many communities have pursued, in Wisconsin and beyond.  See, for example, Places Trying to Cope.

What’s different about a private, and privately-constructed, waste-importing solution to increase municipal revenues is that it separates production from disposal, placing them in different cities.

When Whitewater has a milk plant in town, she had not only the refuse to be processed, but the labor and job gains, in the same city.  (At least, while the plant was doing well enough to offer labor gains to the city.)  The undesirable (waste from the plant) was balanced with the desirable (jobs).

A public-private arrangement for waste-hauling into Whitewater separates good and bad, and allocates only the undesirable refuse of others’ production to Whitewater.  Even if it were to work, that’s a significant departure from a model that tolerates undesirable by-products for the sake of job-sustaining production in the same town.