Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
— Steve’s Marketplace —
Amelia Island faces a dilemma. The island has a tourism-based economy, with no tourists. And with few in sight, if local officials dig their heels in the sand in staunch obstruction.
Some officials fear tourists will bring with them a laundry list of headaches, notably the Coronavirus. The island, and the rest of Nassau County, has mostly evaded the virus. So keep it that way, one side maintains.
On the flipside, Amelia Island boasts delectable restaurants and acclaimed golf courses and swanky hotels. They are empty right now. Without loosened restrictions from local/state officials, they will likely remain that way. And this could lead to the near death of our local economy.
Tourism contributes millions of dollars to our economy, most tangibly through bed taxes collected at local hotels. In addition, there are trickle-down inflows from visitors eating at our restaurants or staying at vacation rentals or participating in outdoor activities like golf, boating, guided tours, etc.
In addition, some 2,700 people from the local tourism industry have been suddenly uprooted and cast to the unemployment lines. In the last month, that is. This human hardship will deliver a devastating toll, if prolonged.
While county officials have consulted on measures to boost the economy or to encourage tourism (like by opening the beaches), Fernandina Beach city officials have been as mute as mimes. They boast about capital projects and commit to providing essential services at this time of need. This is noble, but hardly forward-thinking.
In Jacksonville, Mayor Lenny Curry is encouraging businesses like restaurants and retailers to begin preparations to reopen. “We don’t need people in compact spaces for long periods of time,” Curry says in response to pervasive shut-in measures. “It’s time for retailers and restaurants to start thinking about spacing tables, protecting employees, maybe going reservation only.”
Jacksonville officials are considering another stimulus package beyond a $160 million small-business lending program through Vystar Credit Union. This new package would potentially provide $1,000 grants to 40,000 Jacksonville households uprooted financially from the virus outbreak.
If you compare what Duval County/Jacksonville is doing to Nassau County/Fernandina Beach, it is as different as a sandy beach and an asphalt parking lot on a sunny day. Oh, and yes, Jacksonville has opened its beaches already.
The beaches are a critical part of tourism. Most people come to an island in Florida for the beaches, the water, the sun. With most pools closed, as well as the beaches here (even though they may be opening on a limited basis), there is little water available, and no outlet for digging your toes in the sand.
So instead of digging in our heels, why don’t we dig our toes in the sand. A tourism-based economy needs tourists and things for them to do. It’s time to reopen our local beaches, and our economy.
We could give you 27 million reasons why. That’s the number of people across the U.S. who have filed for unemployment so far. And that’s a lot of important reasons.
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor for a major brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns appear regularly in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and on his website: www.SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has also published a book, “All About Money,” consisting of some of his favorite columns over the past 20 years. The book is available at local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].