Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics of local interest.
The year of 2009 will be remembered by the despair of high unemployment, of a financial system on life support, and of an economy that teetered on a recession of Avatar-like unrealism.
It will also be earmarked by a hope that the American dream still thrives, and that things will get better. Whew, that’s a lot of conflicting emotions for 12 months. But it has been that kind of year.
On a local level, the national issues have inevitably trickled down and impacted our way of life here. However, so has the hope of an economic recovery and a return to a normal way of life.
So with a new year beckoning, here are 10 hopes for 2010. It is indeed a wish list, but it’s the kind of positive thinking we need as a follow-up from last year.
1. Hope that the economy continues to rebound. The wreckage of a once-vibrant real estate market continues to put a drag on state and local economies. The U.S. economy actually grew in the last quarter (although much of it is from artificial stimulus), which provides at least a glimmer of hope going forward.
2. Hope that the unemployment rate declines. We need more jobs, and fewer people unemployed. The 10.2 percent unemployment rate nationally is dwarfed by Florida’s jobless figures. This trickles down to our local economy.
3. Hope that the financial carnage will be sorted our and a healthier banking environment will emerge. Banks and financial institutions must be free and able to lend money. This process drives our economy, pure and simple. Many improvements were made over the past year in this critical area.
4. Hope that Nassau County, Florida continues to shift away from a “pro-development” mentality. Relying on new subdivisions and strip malls to add to the tax base is a fictitious foundation for an economy. We have relied on this for too long here.
5. Hope that Nassau County can attract new, clean industries. This is where the focus on increasing the tax base should be. There is a lot of vacant land in Nassau County. New industries would create higher-paying jobs (not more minimum wage positions) that would help insulate our economy from future recessions. We also need major employers such as the Smurfit Stone mill and Amelia Island Plantation to return to health.
6. Hope that local officials figure out a beneficial direction for downtown Fernandina Beach. There are plenty of issues swirling: the old post office, the old Baptist church, the library, the marina, the health of the historic district, etc.
7. Hope that the city of Fernandina Beach can pare back its budget — like the county has done. City officials must realize that the “employment agency” mentality is no longer valid; the city must be run like a business and not like a cozy place where you can get a job and relax for the next 40 years.
8. Hope that the area can increase amenities for locals and tourists alike. Look around; there are fewer amenities here than there were 10 years ago. There is no longer a bowling alley, or a skating rink, or a batting cage, or a water slide, or an arcade. We must have activities for families to attract a sustainable tourism flow.
9. Hope that the city of Fernandina and Nassau County can improve roads and the infrastructure for solid, sustainable growth. The roads here are already over-burdened. This makes it difficult to attract appealing industries, for instance.
10. Hope that the Nassau County school district can handle future needs from existing revenues, and not increase taxes again. This cannot continue in the slower-growth environment that is expected. The county’s population has grown in recent years, but hardly at a rapid pace.
So there are some hopes, and probably idealistic goals, for the next year. There are certainly others. But let’s start here. And hope for a fruitful 2010.
(Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor who lives on Amelia Island. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or eMail at [email protected])