Where will we be in five years?

This morning I did something I hardly ever resort to these days. I read the local Newspaper, as the front page was covered with promises and moans from incumbent and prospecting politicians on the issue of how to steer the county and city economy for the next four years and beyond. My economic’s professor a long time ago insisted that every economy is local. Of course the year was 1970 and he had never heard about online sales, the iPhone or the world wide web. And that is a bit the impression I get from local politicians after reading their wishful wannabe statements and promises in this morning’s columns.

First there was freshly appointed city manager Joe Gerrity pulling his hair on how to sell higher property taxes and franchise fees to local residents and businesses, while having promised to keep both at previous levels. Apparently Mr. Gerrity, who held a commissioner position in our community until 2008, the year of the economic unraveling, sees no evil in blaming previous commissions for the financial dire straits the city reportedly is in. He is clearly operating on the austerity end of the issue, which undoubtedly feels like a catch 22, but I cannot find any indication that solutions for economic progress scores high on his agenda.

On the county level the Newspaper “introduces” four hopefuls vying for 2 commission vacancies, all of whom are projecting that the economy is their top issue for election. Here too, there is much talk about amputating the budgets, and very little on how to develop economic attraction.

Understandably incumbent candidate Boatright sees merit in continuing his path of contribution as commissioner over the last four years by keeping taxes low and services adequate with just a cautious nod to making the business permitting process less cumbersome then it is right now. The song remains the same for Boatright, whose priorities evolve around ad valorem tax and an afterthought that reads: continue to work on economic development. Nothing however deals with the economic direction.

Overstreet, Boatright’s challenger claims his experience in charities and social clubs to be a proper foundation for what ails the county. He calls his campaign about the future, as elusive as that may be, and the budget as his top priority. Great words but not very inspiring for people that have accepted that things are different now; we’re not pre-2008 anymore. On the topic of economy he walks essentially the same path as his competitor; easing the permitting process and the life of the small business owner. All true and commendable, but no spark of excitement that deals with real economic issues.

Pat Edwards seeks confirmation of his knowledge and abilities in the fact that he has lived in this county for 39 years, which on my notepad makes him a member of the old boys club, which knows so well what’s good for us. Citing his civic commitment record and business sense as markers for electability, Edwards is the first one to bring up support for the Nassau Tomorrow Plan developed by the NCEBD, a plan that at least has some concise direction on how to develop jobs for Nassau County. A sardonic smile invaded my face when I read that Edwards considers it a novel idea to ask residents what they want the Board of Commissioners to spend their tax dollars on. Even though that was the origin of what a democracy originally was based on, in today’s world a myriad of potential consequences come to mind and makes me burst out in Machiavellian laughter. For starters….Think bribes, Mr. Edwards.

Last but not least there is newbie Ronnie Stoots, a thoroughly honest and talented man with vision. And yes, in the interest of the truth, Ronnie is a good friend whom I met  several years ago through music and his financial advisory business. Wonderful guitarist, gifted songwriter and keyboardist/vocalist for the Beech Street Blues Band, Ronnie has a heart. He also has a mission, which unfortunately did not come forward in this newspaper presentation. Yes, the article mentions new ideas in areas of job creation and skill. He mentions regional streamlining of education with the job market needs and he brings back to the table a proposal to create real incentives for the small businesses in Nassau County to add at least one employee a year. My vote goes to Ronnie Stoots, not because he’s my friend, but because he’s capable and understands that we live in a different world then just a short couple of years ago. The paradigm has shifted and most of the old guard hasn’t been made aware yet that the future of Nassau County lies in light manufacturing, technology, bio-diversity, transportation and storage logistics and TOURISM

YES, nobody mentioned TOURISM

Of course here on the beach I realize that tourism does not count across the Thomas Shave bridge, because until recently it was just swamp land. But guess what, the marshes hold a great attraction for many people staying on Amelia Island. Daily I have guests taking boats to go fishing in the marshes and the river. Many once visitors to AmeIia Island have purchased land and built homes in Oyster Bay Harbour and North Hampton to name a few. The island is an important economic engine to the county, but somehow I get the impression that that is not a popular stand.

And just one page down (pg 4A) in the same newspaper, Gil Langley of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council cites that tourism on island in the second quarter has grown by almost 6%. Remember we’re living in a bad economy!? The Omni Amelia Island Plantation is in the middle of investing almost $100 million dollars in upgrades, improvements and expansion, The Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island is finalizing a $65 million improvement investment, even noted novelist John Grisham has chosen the island to invest a couple of million dollars in residences on the beach. It should be a wake up call for local politicians when private businesses and individuals invest these amounts in local real estate to live or operate a business. They spend a lot of money on research, surveys and studies before committing these type of funds.

This area of Northeast Florida is in the spring of nationwide discovery. It’s not only accessible by car and air from across the country and the world, it’s also still pristine.
Our top 3 visitor markets are currently 1. Atlanta , 2. Orlando and 3. Jacksonville; but we haven’t even scratched the surface of New York, Boston, Chicago visitors.

Even our little Inn on the beach books in line with these findings, but we also see that more than 35% of our reservations are now coming from Canada, the West Coast, New England, the heartland and yes, Europe.
I just hope that somehow one or more of these new commissioners understand the market that tourism operates in. To give you one little hint: Rayonier, often mistaken for one of the largest employers in the county, employs less than 300 workers. Both the Omni and the Ritz have close to double that amount of employees…each.

Imagine how many employees a well planned waterpark in the county could feed. Even a convention center/expo facility, race track….?
But I am digressing. You got the picture…or not.
Choose wisely voters of Nassau County. Just remember, 5 years ago there was no iPhone yet. Times are-a-changing rapidly and many of the old guards may not have caught up.