Let me tell you a story about the small town I live in.

It’s a boring small town, but that’s just the way I like it. You kids can have your commuting and your road rage and your smog and whatnot. I’ll take my 3 minute commute, affordable real estate, countless opportunities (mostly because nobody wants to live in small towns) and low crime rates. Small towns may be lacking in the entertainment department, but that’s why Al Gore invented the internet. I still don’t understand why people flock to large centers.

My town recently opened a large community facility. It includes a large field house, along with an indoor track, a convention center and a large gym. I won’t get into the whole story, but the building of this center was kind of hotly contested. Admittedly, it was mostly older people against it, probably because old people are miserable and because it’s not like they’d risk breaking a hip by actually using the place. It is owned and operated by the municipal government, (henceforth referred to as “the town”) which is information that will become important.

I’ve been there a few times, and the gym is massive. It rivals nice facilities I’ve seen in centers much larger than the one I live in. There’s every imaginable piece of equipment, and it’s all brand spankin’ new. There are hottie personal trainers lingering around, just waiting to point out your flaws in exchange for some extra money. To become a member at this swanky facility will only set you back $30 per month if you buy a yearly membership, or about $35 if you lose motivation quickly and only buy a monthly membership.

My town used to have 3 places to pump the iron. The first was a dinky little gym located at the swimming pool. The town ran this until the community facility opened. Then there was a locally owned gym, smaller than the one just recently built, but it had all the equipment and junk you workout guys need to get your aggro on. There was also a Curves, the workout place for ladies who are either fat or don’t want to be ogled by the horny guys jacked up on testosterone at the regular gym.

It’s been 4 months or so since this new facility opened. How have the existing gyms fared in this time?

The gym at the swimming pool closed faster than when that guy showed up at my door to sell me a vacuum cleaner. The regular gym has easily lost 50% of their clientele, at least according to unscientific surveys I’ve done. (i.e. talking to people who work out at that particular gym) The Curves? It struggled for a couple months, and just recently pulled the plug. At least in my town, ladies no longer have an ogle free workout zone.

You can probably figure out the problem I have with this whole situation. There is zero way my local government can make money running this facility. It’s costing them – and, directly, the taxpayers – probably hundreds of thousands of dollars to run this thing per year. It cost approximately $10M to build. No business would invest a dime in something that takes a $10M investment that’s virtually guaranteed to lose money every year. And yet, the government did it.

Of course, governments have different goals than business. Governments should be looking ahead and investing in things that will probably not see a monetary benefit, but will make the lives of the constituents better, thereby increasing this government’s chance of sticking around. Libraries will never make money, parks need to maintained, and swimming pools don’t fill themselves. What’s the difference between these things and the gym my town built?

You can figure out the difference, and it’s HUGE. There aren’t private swimming pools or libraries, but there were two private gyms. One was obviously in a somewhat weak position before the facility opened, since it only lasted a couple months. There’s no doubt the other one has suffered since their new competition showed up.

I think this is a pretty low blow by the town. How can private enterprise compete with something that has no incentive to make money? All the town cares about is getting their membership numbers up so they can justify the huge expenditure to taxpayers. Sure, this encourages wellness, but at what cost?

But, I’m getting sleepy, so I’ll stop rambling. The comment section is all yours. What do you think of the situation in my town?

Tell everyone, yo!