Tuesday, December 12, 2017

In 2017 -- A Glass Both Half-Full and Half-Empty

It's hard not to be ambivalent about 2017. The year was full of both the good and the bad -- wasted opportunities and big accomplishments, a time difficult to measure in simple terms and even more difficult to encapsulate.

On the negative side, we had Hurricane Irma, an ineffective state legislature, a federal government riven with discord and an international scene fraught with terrorism, war and nuclear threats.

It was certainly a tough year locally. Irma dealt Collier County a terrible blow, and our leaders, ill-prepared, had few answers. There were fuel and water shortages, inadequate evacuation plans and shelters that didn't begin to house the many who couldn't get away in time. Recovery has been little better. Three months after the storm, much debris remains. FEMA payments have been slow coming or non-existent. On the commercial side, Irma destroyed nearly half of the state's orange, grapefruit and tangerine crops, and no government help is in sight.

The news from Tallahassee was just as bad. The lawmakers increased money for public education, but not enough to lift Florida above 40th among states for per-capita student spending. Mental health and addiction fared even worse, miring Florida in 49th place among states for funding treatment. (In Collier County, as the opioid epidemic worsened, our jails became the primary home for the addicted.) Bills to regulate fracking went nowhere, and comprehensive gambling legislation never got off the ground. Some money was allocated to rebuild our beaches and control pollution runoff, but not enough to make a difference.

The national scene was a downer as well. We learned that Republicans couldn't govern, a great disappointment to many of us. The Democrats didn't distinguish themselves either. Their only consistent activity was to disparage the president. Beyond government, there were endless reports of sexual harassment, gun violence and weather extremes. And we weren't happy about it. Americans were ranked only the 14th happiest people in the world, down from 13th the year before. Beyond our borders, we were confronted with never-ending conflicts in the Middle East and very real nuclear threats from North Korea.

A tough year indeed.

But it wasn't all bad. There was and is a bright side.

We still live in a great place. Beautiful, warm, cultured, well-beached, loaded with fine restaurants and recreation, Collier County is one of the most affluent places in the country, with a taxable value of $77 billion and millionaires thick under foot. Plenty of billionaires too.

In 2017, the greater Naples area was rated #1 in the country in well-being and income (nearly $80,000 per capita), while Naples-Marco Island-Immokalee was ranked #1 in the state in economic diversity. Our property values climbed, and Forbes Magazine pegged Collier County fourth-best in the nation in job growth.

Anthrax continued to expand, announcing plans for a six-story office complex, a four-story hotel and a new wellness center. CEO Reinhold Schmieding said the facilities would be "a magnet for medical tourism."

Unemployment in the region dropped below 4% and job opportunities rose, although skilled workers in some sectors were in short supply. And, in spite of Irma, tourism continued to break records.

Things looked up nationally as well. The stock market soared, setting new highs, filling pension funds and creating billions in wealth. At the same time, the GDP rose an average of 3% over the last three quarters and is about to top $17 trillion for the year. Consumer confidence and spending gained sharply.

And, driven by an improving global economy, corporate sales and profits surged, as did capital spending. The Wall Street Journal headlined the good news in November: "Economy Hits Full Stride for the First Time in 10 Years."

What about 2018? The future looks bright as well. Mark Strain, Collier County Examiner and a good barometer of all things Naples, says, "This is still the best place in the country to live." I agree. And next year we have a chance to ensure it stays that way. With an avalanche of elections, ballot referenda and constitutional amendments, we as voters will have an opportunity to steer our own course.

I have little doubt 2018 will be a year when the glass is more than half full.

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