Neighbors' Voices : A remarkable year, in a difficult decade
We say goodbye to 2009, with a glance at the exhausted year and a look forward to the fresh one.
As has been its practice for many years, The Times invited selected Island leaders and community members to review some of the accomplishments and challenges of the year that is about to end and to consider what may lie ahead in 2010.
Chris Wells is the president and chief executive officer of the Martha's Vineyard Savings Bank, an independent mutual savings bank headquartered in Edgartown with total assets of $470 million and total deposits of $375 million. The bank was formed in 2007 by the merger of Martha's Vineyard Co-operative Bank and Dukes County Savings Bank.
The bell will soon toll to close 2009 and open 2010, but what a difference a year in time can make. A mere 12 months ago financial markets were near collapse, and the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve, White House, and Congress were collectively writing, voting, re-writing, and then re-voting solutions to thwart economic Armageddon. Some took hold and seemingly have worked. Others, not so much.
Looking back before 2009, however, it's hard to believe 10 years have passed since the same bell rang in the 21st century. Back then we only had to worry about double zeros crashing computers all over the world. Ah, such a simpler time? We all had so much hope and excitement entering the 21st century. All short-lived, however, as the dot.com bubble burst, kicking off a series of events and disasters that will forever shape a decade that needs a catchy name from one of Rupert Murdock's many employees.
We are now at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Did the years provide the progress we anticipated? Politicians are still at odds, we are still at war, and we are still feeling like we're in the middle of a recession. We earn on average only $5 more an hour now than we did when we started the decade, and what we purchased then for $100 now costs $125 due to inflation. The stock market, as measured by the Standard & Poor's 500 index, is lower now than it was at the end of 2000, something definitely not good for the value of our retirement assets and ultimately our futures. Over the last 10years, did we really drive home the good old American feeling that we should leave something better than we found it for the good of all? I'm not so sure, but I am hopeful for what the future brings.
There is some good news. Locally we fared better than nationally economically. We also have financially sound local banks that have gotten stronger in 2009. During 2009, your community banks provided more local lending then in previous years, and attracted more customers as well, both from the regional and national banks that have exited the Martha's Vineyard banking scene. Vineyarders recognized there is something special about banking at the Island's safe, sound, and secure community banks. The smallest increase in lending by a local bank was 20 percent, according to recent information from the Warren Research Group. Deposits within Dukes County rose 3 percent between July 1, 2008 and July 1, 2009, according to the latest FDIC reports. These trends highlight the importance of community bank reliability by way of community support - during good times and bad. A strong community bank will weather personal and business financial storms with you, as long as there's an effort to mutually persevere shared by all the parties involved.
Still, Martha's Vineyard is not immune to the effects of a struggling nation. Even though ours is a grouping of communities made up of people who've worked hard to support their families and lifestyles over the years, and we have a strong local banking structure, we need a reliable sustainable year-round economy. Right now our business community is under strain. While many have been able to reduce staffing, cut costs and otherwise survive, things are becoming, well, more strained. We are feeling the impact of significantly reduced construction activity and the absence of vibrant tourism. And we're really feeling the overall cost to live on Martha's Vineyard. In the midst of this economic backdrop, Martha's Vineyard is on the threshold of a defining moment in charting its own future.
When I think about Martha's Vineyard and the future, I recall an observation by Oliver Wendell Holmes. "What lies behind us," Holmes wrote, "and what lies before us are tiny matters to what lies within us." Creating and maintaining a Martha's Vineyard that is economically self-sufficient rests within us, the people who make up the fabric of what it is to be a Vineyarder.
It is time to set aside political wrangling and take on the personal responsibility we have to care for ourselves and each other, and our Island. The earlier we get to determining how we are going to continue to protect our natural resources and beauty, and how we are going to create a sustainable Martha's Vineyard economy, the better off we'll all be in the long run. The Martha's Vineyard Commission recently adopted the Island Plan, an 11-part regional planning document that provides a basis for a dynamic process of planning between Island towns and communities. It is representative of who we are and it is an informative database and guide of sorts for charting our future course, not an absolute.
Equally important is local involvement and leadership, some of which has recently changed at several organizations important to our vitality and sustainability. Leadership that emphasizes transparency is a good approach for all our Island philanthropic organizations, quasi-public and private agencies that are facing the public to access or request public funding is transparency - the more transparency the better. Martha's Vineyard is also drafting wind guidelines to shape land and offshore wind development, the benefits of which should be black and white, but opinions are not in concert. And we'll need to figure out how we're going to help our elderly care for themselves at home once the so-called health care reform reduces the level of Medicare and Medicaid support they currently receive.
Another great and necessary initiative is providing affordable housing, something that seems common sense but right now seems to be more common senselessness and fragmented. This situation needs to be fixed, perhaps through consolidation and revived leadership. Many organizations rely on private fundraising, grants, or bequeaths to balance their budgets, and the easy money has not been rolling in like it used to, even as we nod our heads in agreement with the various causes such as hospice care, fuel assistance, and food pantries, to name a few.
Where's the support going to come from if not from accommodating sources? Is credible leadership the missing ingredient to successfully delivering or implementing solutions to these issues? Something's missing, and it may be as simple as our personal involvement in a form and substance that is greater than current levels. Asking questions about what's important to you and your town, and getting clarity on where your town is headed is up to you. Spending locally to benefit everyone is your choice. Questioning your school committees' choices and budgets ensures an understanding between you, the administration, and the curriculum that is presented to shape our youth and their ultimate civic involvement in our Island.
It's easy to be disenchanted or pessimistic about what's taking place nationally and locally. It's hard to convert from being a sideline critic to a leader, but many do it. The last 10 years brought us back to earth and cancelled the excesses of the 1990s and 2000s. The stock market will get better - expect six to seven percent annually. Inflation will remain low, the job outlook will remain scarce, and we'll all need to be adaptive to succeed personally. Now though, it's another new beginning, and I am looking forward to getting involved in the goings-on of the next decade, and I hope you are too. Over the next decade, let's seek to add to the already solid list of accomplishments that enrich and improve the communities we collectively call home.