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Longboat Key Wednesday, May. 2, 2012 5 years ago

Our View: Signs of life


It’s beginning to sound a lot like Normal.

Or, it’s certainly heading that way.

Let’s feel good for a change, or at least better. Economic growth — vis-a-vis the contractions of 2009 and 2010 — is definitely under way. You might even say it’s official: Sarasota and Manatee counties’ economies experienced a strong High Season. Great when compared to two and three years ago.

Certainly that’s the consensus you hear from retailers, restaurateurs, hotel operators, Realtors and other business operators. And Gov. Rick Scott continues to report positive momentum for the entire state.

In March, the state’s unemployment rate declined from 9.4% in February to 9.0%, the largest monthly unemployment-rate drop in 20 years. Florida added 10,800 jobs in March. Since Scott took office in January 2011, Florida’s private sector has added more than 100,000 jobs; the governor is 1/7th of the way toward his goal of creating 700,000 new jobs in seven years.

Sure, there are still lagging sectors — commercial real estate and construction being among them. Nonetheless, compared to the dour looks on people’s faces in 2009 and 2010, this Season’s momentum is building confidence in local consumers and business operators that improvement will continue.

None of the experts is expecting a boom, mind you. And that’s a good thing. We all know what follows a boom. And because of 1) the lingering effects of the recession; 2) the never-ending fiscal disaster in Washington, D.C.; and 3) everyone’s fear of what may happen after the national election (i.e. the largest tax increase in American history), economic growth and business confidence are not likely to rise much higher than it is now.

Here is another truism about Florida’s economic health: Historically, population growth has fueled Florida’s economy. In that vein, we need baby boomers (or, call them the “Zoomers” — active adults) to be able to sell their homes up north so they can move to Florida.

In the good ol’ days, Florida added 350,000 new residents a year, the leading factor Florida was always among the fastest-growing states for population and job growth. Last year, population growth was only a third of that and isn’t expected to increase much beyond the 103,000 net new residents in Florida in 2011 compared to 2010.

But at least the state is growing again. So as we head into the traditional slow season here, let’s smell the gardenias and jasmine and enjoy for a while the economic rebound we experienced in our region.
Maybe with some determination, we (the private sector) can keep it going.

+ What if we were at war?
Our government at work.

Put yourself in the shoes of the residents of the 360 North condominiums on the far northwest tip of Longboat Key.

About two weeks ago, blustery weather whooshed away more sand from Longboat Key’s beaches, leaving for the residents at 360 North about 30 to 50 feet of dry sand between their condos and the Gulf of Mexico.
Now this isn’t quite like the situation that existed about five years ago at the Islander Club on the south end. Before the town installed the permeable groins there, it was getting dicey. There was virtually no beach, and one good hurricane blowing from south to north easily could have taken the Islander swimming pool.

It’s not quite that desperate at 360 North. But you know what those residents are thinking: We’re heading into hurricane season; we haven’t had a bad hurricane season in seven years (the last one to come close to us was Wilma in 2005); you have to expect this could be the year.

They’re thinking: It won’t take much before we’ll be in trouble. And there’s no way we’ll be able to sell our units for what we paid without some stable protection.

In their minds, this is urgent. Now.

In the minds of government, urgent is 24 to 36 months.

Longboat Key Public Works Director Juan Florensa says it is unlikely the town would spend thousands more to dump more loads of sand that would immediately be washed away — the ol’ “good money after bad.”

Instead, it looks like the town and Manatee County are moving forward to prepare all of the documentation for state and federal agencies. As always, no one can move a spec of sand without their permission or without a permit.

But … 24 to 36 months for a permit?

Come on. Would it take that long to marshal our national resources for war? Would it take that long to respond to the destruction of a hurricane?

Charlie Sweeney told Observer City Editor Robin Hartill: “It seems to me that we’re no further in pursuit of an acceptable goal than we were a few years ago.”

Let’s do the math: “A few years ago” (that’s three years) plus 24 to 36 months adds up to five to six years.
The goal is clear: build groins. But six years to build?

+ You need a leader
One of the pleasures of the winter season in Greater Sarasota is how this region manages to attract some extraordinary speakers and experts.

The Ringling College Library Town Hall Series is always rich with compelling speakers. Among them this year: former first lady Laura Bush, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal and “Freakonomics” author Steven Levitt.
But over the past three weeks, Sarasota’s Argus Foundation, a not-for-profit business organization that focuses on improving the region’s business climate and communication between the private and public sectors, has hosted two guests whose separate messages coincidentally pointed in the same direction.

One of those guests was part-time Longboat Key resident, Dr. Phil Kotler, the world-renowned professor at Northwestern University, textbook author and expert on marketing. If you’ve ever studied marketing, no doubt you have read at least one of Dr. Kotler’s books.

The other Argus speaker was Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson. Before being elected lieutenant governor, Abramson spent nearly 15 years as mayor of Louisville.

Kotler’s presentation focused on one of the subjects of one of his textbooks: “place marketing,” specifically what Greater Sarasota can do to draw more visitors and businesses and create a worldwide brand identity.
Dr. Kotler handed out a treasure trove of specific suggestions. For one, he says, “All sectors (of the community) must work together if you want to have something really great.” And: “Sarasota needs a strategic plan. It needs to develop a unique tagline” that encompasses what Sarasota has to offer, as he says: “excellent weather and natural beauty with high-quality arts and culture. No other city can make that claim.”
Lt. Gov. Abramson, a few days later, told the story of how the city of Louisville shook its complex as a second-tier city and took steps to become an equal, if not ahead of nearby rivals Nashville and Cincinnati. Its main step: It consolidated its county and city governments into one — and united the community behind that concept.

In both presentations, there was a similar message about one of the key ingredients necessary to success in place marketing and making government work. They both said you need a leader — a strong, elected mayor.

Click here to view economic snapshots.

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