MVC gauges new directions for economy
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) unveiled a study of the Island economy and suggested five "emerging directions" and five "promising initiatives" at its final public forum on the Island Plan this past week.
About 75 people attended the forum titled "Livelihood and Commerce" held Wednesday night in the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. The MVC is seeking ideas and comment to create the Island Plan, which is billed as a course to steer Martha's Vineyard for the next 50 years.
The economic report, called "Leakage Analysis of the Martha's Vineyard Economy" was commissioned by the MVC, at a cost of $4,900, to study specific sectors where money "leaks" out of the local economy, and identify goods and services that might be produced locally to strengthen the Island economy (A copy of the report is available here).
Panelist Steve Bernier of Chilmark, owner of Cronig's Markets, introduced the study, and spoke forcefully about a return to self-sufficiency. "If all that we do is take money out of our pocket," said Mr. Bernier, "and go buy goods and services from somewhere on the planet, we better have plenty of money in our pocket, because in time, that money leaves, and it's not being replaced with anything.
"It's not friendly, no one wants to see it, but we're losing our economic engine. On this little Island of ours, we have limitations, we also have many opportunities. We need to access goods and services with value, as it pertains to our community, and each other as good neighbors."
Economist Caroline Fenske outlined the scope of another economic study, which is currently underway to quantify workforce characteristics, employment trends, cost of living, and cost of doing business.
"A big component is the underground economy," said Ms. Fenske. "There is money changing hands that is not reported to the government for tax purposes. It's difficult to estimate, but it's an important component on the Martha's Vineyard economy. We want to get a handle on that."
The Leakage Analysis study notes that "as many as 3,000 undocumented workers, mostly Brazilians," live or work on the Island, but makes no reference to the source of the information, or how illegal workers affect the local economy.
Advice and dissent
At the Wednesday night forum, the working group measured the response to its "emerging directions" and "promising initiatives" by asking meeting participants to hold up colored cards showing their degree of agreement or disagreement. While most of the ideas were met with majority approval, there was opposition on several issues.
A significant number of orange and red cards showing disagreement flashed when moderator Sherman Goldstein of West Tisbury, owner of the Mansion House hotel in Tisbury, asked for reaction to an initiative that might establish an eco-tourism program to attract specific groups to the Island during the winter months.
"Tourism in the summer season tends to tire people out," said Henry Geller of West Tisbury. "People look forward to a rest and respite. The size of this could be important."
"If it means big tour buses, it's a bad idea," said Phil Henderson of Vineyard Haven.
Mary Ellen Larsen added some perspective to the discussion when she recalled a time when the Island had dairies, dozens of working farms, a vibrant fishing industry, car dealerships, and an electric utility.
"Forty years ago, we had all these things you're talking about," said the Tisbury resident. "We've lost them over the years. It's possible to go back to that self-sufficiency, but it will take a long time."
Warren Doty, chairman of the Chilmark selectmen, spoke about the political and economic barriers to some of the initiatives. "This notion of the conflict between commercial production of food, whether it's in agriculture or in fishing, as it conflicts with recreational interests and with tourist interests, is a very important conflict," said Doty, who was a fish wholesaler at one time.
"Memorial Wharf (in Edgartown) is now used almost exclusively for recreational, for tourist purposes. There's a ferry that lands on the end of the dock that used to have large fishing boats. That's happened throughout most of the harbors. If you propose a slaughterhouse, it's like proposing lobster processing facility, where are you going to do that? It's like proposing a large fish processing plant where we're going to set up a smokehouse and we're going to smoke a lot of fish, where are you going to do that? What dock are you going to put it on, what waterfront are you going to put it on?"
Reaction and perspective
Speaking several days after the forum, MVC executive director Mark London and Mr. Goldstein agreed that some of the initiatives met opposition because they were vague, or prone to misunderstanding.
"In a way, I was happy to have that," said Mr. London on Tuesday. "Some were asking for clarification of the concept. It's not surprising that people want to add, clarify."
"Some people thought eco-tourism meant big buses," said Mr. Goldstein. "That's the last thing we were thinking about. We were focusing on groups of 15 people, at the most."
Mr. London noted later that the variety of opinions reflects the diversity of positions among those attending the forum.
"If you're a business and you can make a lot of money in the summer months, and coast on that revenue the rest of the year, you're probably not in favor of a more year-round economy," said Mr. London. "If you're one of those people, when the unemployment rate goes from two percent to seven percent, who doesn't have work in the winter, you are probably in favor."
The Livelihood and Commerce forum was the sixth and final public forum scheduled by the MVC. The commission has preliminarily set up five new work groups to study new issues. They include the built environment, culture and history, health and education, governance, and transportation.
The commission invites comment and participation through its web site, www.islandplan.org.
See related story >> Plugging "leaks" in the Island economy