EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.
In retrospect, in 2013 we witnessed the highs of the U.S. stock market and the lows of interest rates — as well as a multitude of elevations in between.
The stock market reached record levels, interest rates bottomed at all-time lows, and universal healthcare and the NSA and Twitter became part of our everyday lexicon.
On a local level, tourism peaked in Nassau County while unemployment dipped, and the year proved relatively prosperous. So we optimistically look ahead to 2014, with certain developments and resolutions that would make the outlook even brighter. Since 10 is a popular number, here are that many ideas, suggestions, hopes for the coming year.
1- The county needs to move past an awkward $100,000 incident involving clerk John Crawford — and get on with bigger, more substantive issues (like a $10 million budget deficit). Micro-managing an incident does not accomplish anything, and is little more than grandstanding; Crawford has been a noteworthy steward of county funds, not a spendthrift. (Some county officials do not like that he monitors their spending, to be honest.)
2- While Fernandina Beach battles a long-running lawsuit over its assessment of impact fees, the legal clock continues to tick — and costs are accumulating at the speed of the national debt. City officials may reportedly resort to an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court as another stalling tactic. Sometimes, these matters will cost less if a negotiated settlement is reached early in the process.
3- Resilient downtown Fernandina Beach has thrived over years of peaks and valleys in the economy. However, there are currently more empty storefronts than in recent memory. But the idyllic corridor always revives and recovers, and we hope it can do it again. For instance, there are rumblings of the Beech Street Grill reopening and new owners coming in for O’Kane’s Irish Pub.
4- Fernandina Beach must finally resolve nagging issues over the golf course, marina and the airport. These assets are supposed to generate enough revenues to pay for themselves, but that hardly happens. There are few easy answers, but maybe an improving economy will help.
5- The county must resolve a cataclysmic budget deficit that approaches $10 million in the next year — while confronting big-ticket items like a new sheriff’s office. While a new sheriff’s building is in dire need, it just seems to be a bad time to approach it with the deficit looming like a rain cloud.
6- Hopefully the city can figure out a way to balance its budget without raising the tax (millage) rate. After five or more years of tax hikes, residents and businesses are no doubt becoming financially weary. The largest part of the city budget (like with most municipalities) is in the fire/rescue/police areas; you have to at least look in this area for some reductions, even though they are vital services.
7- Nassau County public schools continue to move to the head of the class. The most recent development is that the schools here have excellent graduation rates, but they also place high in terms of standardized tests. A skilled and knowledgeable labor force is a significant advantage in attracting new businesses, especially with the presence of valuable Florida State College in Yulee.
8 – Let’s hope our premier resorts — Omni Amelia Island Plantation and the Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island — continue to prosper after the substantial internal investments each has made. Our area eclipsed 500,000 tourists this year, demonstrating that tourism is a serious industry here and should be nurtured. Much of that tourism came from these two prized properties through corporate conventions, international advertising and the likes.
9- We hope that county officials figure a solution for development along State Highway A1A in Yulee. The area is already congested and plastered with as many neon signs as the Las Vegas strip. And there is so much more to come. The Terra Pointe development in Yulee appears ready to break ground, and the Crawford Diamond industrial complex on the west side eagerly awaits a prominant tenant.
10- In a final wish or declaration, here is to the city officials getting together with county officials and addressing duplication of services, possible synergies, and ways to make our lives better. A major part of the population and tax base is on Amelia Island and in Yulee, while the largest area for future growth lies on the west side. Let’s tidy up the county so it is one single, attractive, packaged unit, moving in a unified direction.
And let’s make sure that the direction is up — as in better. Like the stock market.