For several years, in the last newspaper of each year, we’ve asked Island leaders to write about the year ending and the one impending. This year, Nelson Sigelman, The Martha’s Vineyard Times managing editor, enlisted as essayists several Island leaders who work in the trenches: in business, in nonprofits, in construction, in real estate, in banking, and in conservation – every one of them a do-er. Each essayist grapples daily with the basics of actual Island life, as we live it. In particular, we wanted to know what do-ers like these saw as the work that needs to be done. The results were remarkable, for their realistic, straightforward eloquence about the trouble in which we find ourselves, but also about the possibility that by concentrating on the basics there may be some opportunities we don’t want to miss.
Here’s an example. Christopher Scott, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, writing about Island nonprofits, suggested that we can do what we do better: “This is an appropriate time for an honest analysis of our operations; are we as efficient as possible, are our goals realistic and achievable, can we partner with other groups to accomplish even more? Our budgets should be trim, and our efforts to carry out our missions redoubled. Martha’s Vineyard will need our services more than ever in the coming year, and I have faith that the bedrock support will still be there.”
And, we can set aside illusion to focus on the areas of economic power that require nurturing. “There is a great deal more to building houses on Martha’s Vineyard than what is happening on the job site,” John Early, the contractor, explained. “There are the architects and engineers who design the sewage disposal systems and the landscaping as well as the houses; the plumbing and electrical supply companies; the paint and carpet stores; the trucking companies; the inspectors; the caretakers and the maintenance people. And there are the hundreds of carpenters, masons, roofers, shinglers, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, painters, cabinetmakers, landscapers and other essential trades people who have, until fairly recently, been able to depend on the 40-hour week and the paycheck that goes along with it.”
In the real estate industry, also an important economic ingredient central to the quality of Island life, these difficult times for property owners and for sellers nevertheless present an important chance for those who would be on the other end of a real estate transaction. “There are several conditions favoring the buyer,” Sharon Purdy, a real estate broker, wrote. “There is more inventory available now than at any time since the market downturn in the late 1980s. Price reductions/corrections are occurring with regular frequency. Interest rates are lower than they have been in the past 40 years, and financing is readily available to qualified buyers. An incredible opportunity presents itself to all those who have been waiting on the sidelines for the past decade, wishing they had gotten into the market in the early 1990s.”
We can welcome visitors and acknowledge the rewards they bring in exchange for the rewards we give. Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, put it this way: “But there’s good news, and opportunity, here on Martha’s Vineyard… tourism remains the third largest employer in Massachusetts, and despite tough economic conditions, the Massachusetts travel and tourism industry continues to perform above the national average.”
We can acknowledge the limits we face and determine that we will do more with what is available. James Lengyel, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, Martha’s Vineyard’s accomplished public conservation agency, described his organization’s approach: “The Land Bank will continue to seek trail links between its preserves and reservations, which return great benefits for modest expenditure, and will focus on land management. Still, voters may expect to see some but not too much new, protected land. That day is in the future, and probably the near future.”
We can appreciate the immense value of all of the businesses and consumers that are our neighbors and friends and recognize their need for economic sustenance and steady growth. As Fielding Moore, president and chief executive officer of the Edgartown National Bank, put it, “While hopeful for a good tourist season, we anticipate that revenues for merchants, restaurants, inns, and other tourism dependent businesses and services may be less than in prior years. This may require more lines of credit and greater usage as seasonal cash flow fluctuations may be more dramatic. Also, businesses may need additional working capital, since cash flow may not be adequate to fund needed capital investment. It is difficult to say how long the recession will last, but it is important for our local businesses to survive the downturn, so that they continue to maintain their payrolls and support each other and the local economy. While hopeful for a good tourist season, we anticipate that revenues for merchants, restaurants, inns, and other tourism dependent businesses and services may be less than in prior years. This may require more lines of credit and greater usage as seasonal cash flow fluctuations may be more dramatic. Also, businesses may need additional working capital, since cash flow may not be adequate to fund needed capital investment. It is difficult to say how long the recession will last, but it is important for our local businesses to survive the downturn, so that they continue to maintain their payrolls and support each other and the local economy.”
Mr. Moore’s essay was comprehensive and detailed, but he concluded with the clearest possible statement of the economic imperative we must all recognize, namely that the health of this community’s economic life, in all its varied dimensions, is the inescapable must-do for 2009 and beyond.