A tale of two chambers
Here's the latest from Cape Cod, from a demographic study commissioned by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce:
- The Cape's year-round population, after years of steady growth, has crested. Actual decline has begun in the category of families with school-age children; the median age of Cape Codders is nearly 46 years, making Barnstable the oldest county in New England. This aging and shrinking of the population means that the Cape labor supply is going from tight to even worse.
- Despite declining enrollments, school tax levies on the Cape have jumped 26 percent in the past six years. Given the property tax base, reliant as it is on single-family homes with few people living in them, the study describes this rate of increase in school costs as simply unsustainable.
- The demographics of new home buyers on the Cape is becoming increasingly unbalanced: In a fall 2007 survey, just one in eight home buyers had children, just one transaction in eight was a first-time home purchase, and fully half of all buyers said their purchase was a vacation or investment property. Concludes the study: "There may not be enough year-round workers or families with children to sustain Cape communities long term. Critical goal: rebalancing the Cape's human ecology."
These are the central findings presented by demographer Peter Francese at an economic summit organized by the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce at the end of October. Mr. Francese's report has sparked a spirited discussion on Cape Cod. After his presentation he was invited to a series of meetings with boards of selectmen throughout Barnstable County. He spent an interesting half-hour on Mindy Todd's Cape and Islands public radio talk show, The Point, on Dec. 17, discussing the implications of his study; you can hear that conversation on the station's web site. And on its own web site, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce has posted a page devoted to the economic summit, with resources from a streaming video of the program to printable documents filled with demographic charts and graphs.
Reading Mr. Francese's report, it's tempting to venture that the trends now playing out on Martha's Vineyard are much the same. But has anyone on this side of the water compiled a similar data set?
If you're looking for answers, allow me to save you a step: Don't bother searching at www.mvy.com, web site of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. There you'll find a scenic slide show, a come-hither headline, "Discover the magic of Martha's Vineyard," and lots of information for visitors - on everything from the logistics of getting here to resources for planning your Island wedding, conference, or vacation. But useful data for businesses? Reports, statistics, policy updates? You'll look for these in vain.
The Island chamber's web site pretty much duplicates the sort of information you'll find browsing capecodchamber.org. But wait a minute: at the bottom of the Cape chamber's home page is a link to its comprehensive membership and business information web site.
At ecapechamber.com, the Cape Cod chamber maintains a site packed with resources for member businesses. You can spend hours exploring here. In a page on economic development, the chamber goes beyond tourism, declaring its commitment to five areas deserving attention and support: public transportation, smart growth, affordable housing, entrepreneurship, and access to child care and family services. Here the chamber posts its formal positions on issues from a Cape Cod casino (opposed) to the Cape Wind energy project (opposed, again). You can read a strong and thoughtful position paper on smart growth, issued jointly by the Cape Cod chamber and the Association to Preserve Cape Cod. You can also find page upon page of data, from rooms tax receipts to traffic across Sagamore Bridge and at Barnstable Municipal Airport.
By commissioning the Francese study and building an October event around it, the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce made news across the region and started a lively community conversation about the future. The last time our Island chamber of commerce made news was by mismanaging its own October event, a program staged to introduce magazine writers to the Vineyard wedding industry. After member businesses complained that they'd been given no chance to take part in the program, the chamber's director vowed to focus on better communication in 2008.
Better communication - that's a laudable goal. Another would be to begin imagining a Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce whose services to member businesses, and whose contribution to the Island community's conversation about its future, might include even a healthy fraction of what its Cape counterpart delivers.