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Iowa City is favoring the wrong businesses

BY GUEST OPINION | OCTOBER 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa City is not conducive for new business startups. The primary reason for this, as I have studied over the past two years, is the local business community's complacence in supporting innovation. We have only ourselves to blame.

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a master's in industrial engineering, I started a company for helping startups through business planning and engineering design. For the past two years, I have not been able to find sensible space in the Iowa City downtown for any of my clients. Whether a client intended to set up a linguistic institute or a design firm, the rents demanded by landlords have been exorbitant. Only bars can afford such rates. Many landlords are disinterested to even make basic improvements to upper floors so that the space is sanitary, accessible, and up-to-code. Lost rent because of vacancy is negligible to what the bars rake in. There is simply no business in downtown that is concerned with innovation through community building. This image certainly isn't inviting for tech and creative startups.

I've been negotiating for an entire year with a number of landlords for a media production lab with a performance/gallery space for coworking called Mon Studio (French for "My Studio" so that all artists can claim it to be theirs). I haven't been able to persuade them to have compassion for persons with disabilities and the elderly even when I will take care of funding, design, and construction of an elevator. Such abject lack of empathy or even sympathy for human beings while purporting to be a heritage to the city or being "for the people" is the simple reason local citizens are rightfully disgruntled.

The argument has never been against capitalism, nor the concept of governance, but against the deep-seated emptiness in the hearts of those "esteemed' individuals who make their enormous profits off our hard-earned savings while deceiving us into believing that they are truly in our service. Such apathetic people who hold power are not unique to Iowa City or Wall Street or the United States. Such individuals are dispersed across the world. No institution can make such individuals erudite and ethically responsible.

Elected bodies do play a key role in setting public policies and ensuring that ideals and values sifted through rigorous reasoning prevail in our society. However, I feel that individuals play a more important role than civic institutions in constructing a society, because each individual is an institution within her- or himself. It is our responsibility to freely accept our role in society and work toward shared prosperity and peace that emerges from the concerted efforts of able, meritorious individuals. What can any of us gain by being self-centered misanthropes?

The movements gaining momentum across the world are a welcome sign of restoration, a restoration of ideals embedded in the welfare of humanity while denouncing gains made through pretense. They are also a sign of innovation, a contemporary model for using web-enabled technologies to promote a sense of community and collaboration. It is sad that such ideals would seem too grand and burdensome to so many bars, banks, etc., who provide a gleaming image of how their business is in the true service of local citizens.

It is a shame that we keep getting hoodwinked by their marketing. The fact that many of us are drunk and doped off their product could explain our subservience and even our paralysis to do something genuine about our hapless situation.

Our first steps should be to let our conscience, free of intoxicants and toxins of indifference, wholly occupy our being before we march toward occupying any physical setting.

Sameer Khan is an Iowa City resident and an industrial engineer and business analyst for Pratimaan LLC.


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