Oswego tries drive-thru economics

No official date is set, but the city of Oswego will soon be home to a new Taco Bell location. At first glance, this may seem like a triumph for a city full of broke, stoned college students. Oswego and Oswego State may be better off long term without it. Like most Americans, I enjoy Taco Bell and many other fast-food chains. Like their food however, drive-thru “restaurants” are best in moderation.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow, like any responsible elected official, announced the opening with a picture at his desk holding one of its tacos in support of the new franchise. Regardless of the goods or services a company provides, elected officials at all levels must praise the arrival of new businesses for “creating jobs” and “attracting investment.” President Donald Trump is often heard lauding his ability to convince companies to relocate or remain in the United States to “invest in America” and “create employment opportunity.” Whether a new restaurant in a small Central New York city or manufacturing plant in Detroit, both undoubtedly come with economic upside. Private construction companies, public works departments, employees and owners of the new business all have their hands full developing, then maintaining the project.

Presumably, a new Taco Bell is an investment that will get more people spending money in the city, benefitting the economy and the local franchise owner. The almighty dollar and economic development often trump all other factors guiding our politics, but we should consider the type of businesses we attract before praising the newest fast-food joint.

Oswego is already saturated with big-name chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Domino’s, and Wendy’s, to name only a few. Taco Bell is great, but given the potential costs, all these available alternatives make it difficult to justify squeezing them in. Economic competition is important, but any business that Taco Bell will receive is probably business that would have gone to one of those other franchises anyway. Ideally, strong competition involves some smaller or family-owned businesses as well, though franchises are still technically locally owned.

City space is  another factor that got too little consideration in this deal. The new Taco Bell site is set at the location of the former Ponderosa Steakhouse on George Street. This is already an incredibly crammed, high-traffic area. Wouldn’t the city do just fine with one less big, bright neon drive-thru advertisement?

The new restaurant will likely create employment, like any new business. That said, a few dozen minimum wage jobs in a low-income area is not exactly the perfect recipe for economic success.

What is more, the abundance of cheap food incentivizes people to buy more of it. We college students love it now, and our bodies can tolerate it. For older city residents though, local, county and state taxes ultimately pick up the expensive healthcare tabs left from the health costs of fast-food consumption. It is no surprise that the rise in obesity, fast-food consumption and healthcare spending have all correlated over the last several decades in America.

Amazingly, the supply of fast food in the city is beginning to outpace the demand for tasty, convenient food on the cheap. Though these stops indeed hold a distinct purpose, especially in a college town, the city of Oswego does not need to hear the ring of the Taco Bell.


Graphic: Rachel Futterman | The Oswegonian

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