On September 11th we learned that our country is vulnerable in ways we never imagined. In every community across America there is a sense of real uncertainty, a sort of collective waiting for the other shoe to drop.
In Key West this national uncertainty is being reflected in the serious downturn in our local economy. Our entire nation is feeling the economic impact of the terrorist attacks, but tourism-reliant communities like ours are being hit especially hard, and are most likely to sustain the longest lasting damage. This critical situation once again casts doubt on the wisdom of basing our local economy on a single industry, particularly one as vulnerable to economic fluctuations as tourism. And considering Key West's history of disaster when it puts all its economic eggs in one basket wrecking, the military, sponging, cigar-making it's time to take a serious look at ways to broaden our economic base.
The city's best strategy would be to seek small and medium-sized businesses to relocate here. Given our irreplaceable natural environment, it would be essential to court only non-polluting industries such as computer software companies and other high-tech, low impact businesses. But Key West is a very desirable place to live and work, and I doubt that it would be hard to interest a variety of businesses in setting up shop here. And a diversity of businesses would do more than just stabilize our local economy. It would also provide a better range of job opportunities for residents, giving our island's young people more choices than getting a tourism-related job or leaving town.
For years a few lonely voices have been calling on our city government to actively pursue this kind of economic diversity. But so far our City Commission has failed to take any real action to broaden our economic base, parroting the industry line that the only thing our community is suited for is tourism.
When it comes to the issue of economic diversity there is a sense of irrational denial on the part of most city policymakers. It is a natural human tendency to maintain the status quo, but the inability to come to grips with this issue seems to go beyond that typical resistance to change. Another factor could be the profits that are made by a few from the short sighted exploitation of our cultural and natural resources for quick financial gain the cost being the long term sustainability of our community.
It's unfortunate that our grief over the tragic attacks on our people is being compounded by the economic distress we are now suffering. We are learning the hard way about the importance of economic diversity and sustainability in surviving difficult times. Now it's up to our city's leaders to show some real vision and take real action to make our economic foundation more stable.