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August 27, 2009

This Wonderful Life: Interestinger and Interestinger

I grew up in a town - heck, and entire state - that relies heavily on tourism and retirees for its economic health.



While my hometown is in Northwest Florida, rather than that vast stripmall/ amusement/park/ nightclub we liked to call “the other Florida,” the town still catered to the tourists who brought their vacation-driven need to spend and retirees who brought handsome next eggs.



The powers that be considered the future of the town, and decided to outsource, relying on people and money from other places to keep its economic engines running. The town had a long tradition of outsourcing its future, from it’s earliest formation as a Spanish colony (or is that in-sourcing?) to the town it had become when I left - a town which eagerly planned a waterfront sports attraction while its teachers were some of the lowest paid and its students some of the lowest performing in the nation. We had a saying in Florida: Thank God for Mississippi.



The problem with outsourcing your future has become pretty evident over the past year. It doesn’t take much (just a few dozen bank closures, is all) for nest eggshells to get a little brittle and for people to start scaling back their vacations.



Suddenly, the restaurants and theaters are empty, while the car lots are full. The newspaper where I used to work - a paper that had served the community since the late 1800s - now operates on a skeleton crew and can’t even afford to run its own press any longer. It sends its pages 60 miles away to be printed on a former competitor’s press.



I hate to say it, but I’m glad I’m not there to see what’s happening. And I hope that all the buzz about supporting local food, services and goods will take root in my hometown, and they’ll start investing in their most precious local resource: People and ideas and ingenuity.

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