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Maxed out

The diversification plan gamble

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Diversification, not unlike sustainability, is one of those concepts easier to grasp than execute. And almost impossible to argue against.

Financial advisors push diversification on their clients all the time. A diversified portfolio - that's what people with lots of money have; the rest of us have a bank account - is safer than one that's not very diverse. The theory is if an investment in a yak dung mine in Tibet goes south, stock issued by the company providing natural gas to Tibet and making yak dung everyone's second fuel choice will do well. Or something like that. I suspect it's mostly designed to cover up the mistakes financial advisors make advising their clients. The most honest financial advisor I've ever met was a homeless person perched on a piece of cardboard at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. His crudely-lettered sign read, "Shitty advice: $1.00" Talk about truth in advertising.

Diversification is, of course, a fancier way of saying don't put all your eggs in one basket. Personally I've never had more than a dozen eggs at one time and I've never carried them in a basket. I'd gently suggest anyone who did probably raised chickens they were pilfering the eggs from and likely wouldn't care all that much if they dropped a few now and then.

But diversification is a gospel of common sense wisdom and therefore impossible to argue against. Except in the case of Whistler's economy, it might just be a fantasy whose presence only serves to blunt any real effort to broaden, as opposed to diversify, our economic base. Let's be honest, we're a tourist town. We were built to be a tourist town, designed to be a tourist town, and mostly we're pretty good at it.

We'll never have any serious manufacturing sector, which isn't to say nothing will be built here, just that whatever is will always be the exception that proves the rule. We'll never have an agricultural sector and while our new, post-Olympic broadband capacity might spawn some knowledge-based businesses, the cost of housing will always be an uncompetitive barrier to entry for any large-scale business growth. The University of Whistler - as opposed to some less grandiose educational initiatives - is a chimera, part fantasy, part wishful thinking with a whole host of problems to be resolved.

The other drawback to those kinds of diversification initiatives is they don't really do much to boost our municipal coffers. Especially in a town that may bump up against its self-imposed limits to growth. There's not much bounce in property taxes, works and services charges or hotel tax in most diversification plans.

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