— Steve’s Marketplace —
Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
It was your typical, garden-variety farmers market. Booths, merchants, music. People around here enjoy them.
But this wasn’t the ever-popular farmers market in downtown Fernandina Beach. Instead, it was at Wildlight, and it was a delight. Basically, a new entrant/competitor just stormed into the farmers market arena.
In this dazzling new community, the farmers market made a dynamic debut, with 40 tents, a large crowd, and a soothing saxophone player. With plenty of open space and parking, the Wildlight Market Place has room to grow and flourish with the neighborhood – and it undoubtedly will.
Every business should take notice. More competition is entering our county every day. It will be sophisticated, appealing, and will come by many avenues, in many ways. This isn’t about a synergy between businesses; it’s about competition.
Small, locally owned restaurants and stores are wrestling with staffing issues right now, but not so for the deep-pocketed chains. National restaurant/retail companies can offer higher wages along with even health insurance and retirement plans. Our mom-and-pop businesses cannot afford such perks.
In addition, many of the workers at the Amelia Island restaurants and hotels and shops commute here. They come from Yulee and the west side and South Georgia. But will they continue to pass higher-paying jobs along the way – and closer to their homes?
According to local economic officials, top-line restaurants like The Capital Grille will eventually come here, along with high-end shops the caliber of Neiman Marcus. There is also talk about building a smaller Town Center-type development, with featured stores, restaurants and hotels. This Town Center would resemble the one in central Jacksonville, more so than the struggling River City Marketplace.
In addition, two new full-scale hospitals will soon join the UF Health facility on State Highway 200, across from Wildlight. The UF Health hospital is so close that it incorporates the powerful Wildlight name, as does the glitzy new YMCA.
Both Baptist and Memorial (owned by Hospital Corporation of America, or HCA) will also build grand complexes. The 65-acre Baptist campus is being cleared now. The trio of accessible hospitals will become a regional draw for healthcare patients.
Think about it. Yulee and Callahan residents who now drive to Baptist Nassau Hospital in Fernandina Beach might pursue medical services closer to home. And they may go to lunch or shop among a slew of stores that will populate the area around the intersection of I-95 and State Highway 200. In other words, they may not make it to Amelia Island like they do now.
In many instances, a major highway like I-95 will attract the growth in an area. Many more vehicles will pass through Nassau County along the interstate than all the other roads combined in a typical day. While the rampant tourists will still play in downtown Fernandina Beach and stay at the trendy resorts/hotels on Amelia Island, there will be an appeal of the newer places in Yulee.
As shopping centers are built in Yulee, they are filled almost immediately. Not so much on Amelia Island, with vacancies in similar locations. Even some Fernandina Beach-based restaurants like Tasty’s and Fancy Sushi have expanded into the Yulee markets. Others may even relocate there.
The time has come for local tourism, business and government officials to join forces to address the lingering labor shortage here. And how this is hurting locally owned businesses. A task force of some type would be most effective, with a specific plan to identify workers, train them and then employ them.
The writing is on the wall, like graffiti on a CSX rail car. We must read it, and act on it. You’d have to be wearing a blindfold to miss what is happening right in front of our eyes. It’s something called competition.
Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in weekly newspapers in North Florida and in South Georgia, and on his website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].