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Observations: The pendulum swings

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image The new Village Marina, once part of Little Harbor Resort, has been purchased. Improvements to the facility are already underway. Mitch Traphagen Photo

The pendulum is swinging in South Hillsborough.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

I realized very early on in college that I could never major in finance. What caused that realization you may (but probably didn’t) ask?  It’s because the basic philosophy driving finance is impossible.

From the finance perspective, growth is necessary for survival. And growth must continue indefinitely. That does not (and probably cannot) happen. Look at Woolworth’s, Sears or DEC Computer as examples. All were on top of the world at one time, leading an industry, thinking they were unstoppable. Yet they stopped, they fell and, in some cases, have disappeared. No company can grow forever. Things change, times change, people change — and a company that once made money by selling pre-cut houses shipped via railcar during the 1920s and 30s is now struggling to survive. Walmart and Target came in and knocked Sears off the perch. Someday some new company will do the same thing to Walmart and Target.

Of course, the same could potentially be said for nations. These days there are frequent comparisons relating the Roman Empire to the United States. I’m not sure it works the same way for nations, though. At least it doesn’t have to. Businesses are focused on one thing:  making a profit. Once they find a way to do that, they milk it until there’s nothing left and then they look up to see that the world has changed around them and the money slows or simply stops coming in. Nations, however, are much more dynamic. There is no profit motive; there is just survival. Survival is a mighty strong motivator. Also, none of the leaders of the Roman Empire had to deal with election day. If the United States falls as the Romans did, there will be no one to blame for it but the electorate. That’s you and me, folks.

Take Florida as an example. Just a few years ago, the Tampa Bay area was leading the nation in job growth, and unemployment was so low that companies were concerned about the ability to fill positions while homebuilders put up houses around the clock to satisfy the demand. Today, Florida is frequently mentioned as one of a handful of poster children of economic malaise. Some “experts” are saying that the state may not come up for air until 2020 or later. (Of course those “experts” may have been the same people telling everyone to “buy now while you still can” during the housing bubble of a few years ago.)

Times do change and so do people, and ours is supposed to be a government of the people, after all. I am so sure of it that I can state this as fact:  the United States of America will not go the way of the Roman Empire. At least not now or anytime in the foreseeable future. When things start to slide in this country, Americans simply pick up the slack. This nation has reinvented itself so many times and has always risen and always improved — sometimes it’s just hard to see it while in the midst of the dark clouds.

But clearly not everyone has trouble seeing through dark clouds. People and businesses are quietly beginning to invest in Florida not just with optimistic words but also with money — real money. And I’m pretty certain that in this day and age, not many people joke about literally millions upon millions of dollars.

The nation’s largest development since the housing bust has broken ground recently in Apollo Beach. Along Shell Point Road in Ruskin, work has begun on another housing development. Yes, it is all happening in the midst of a foreclosure crisis, but housing developments don’t go up overnight and the foreclosure crisis won’t last forever.

Little Harbor Resort in Ruskin suffered during the housing bust with an array of companies involved in foreclosure, and bankruptcy, and who knows what else. Although still in a legal quagmire of sorts, the resort landed on its feet and has been running full or nearly full the past several weeks. The tourists enjoying the amenities of the resort (peace, quiet and beautiful sunsets over dinner are worth enjoying) don’t care about what happened during the housing bust. They are just happy to be enjoying beautiful Florida weather in February.

Word has been passed around that an entity has purchased 49 of the condos at the development and a group has purchased the marina within the resort with the intention of actually running a marina. Kevin Lesler, the dockmaster for the new Village Marina, is a good man and lives just down the road. Improvements to the marina are already underway — and it is certainly one of my favorite places to be.

It’s one thing to make happy talk while wearing rose-colored glasses, but it’s quite another thing to be throwing money down on the table. With a few million here and 50 million there, real money says something quite different from what some “experts” are saying. Contrary to those “experts,” the pendulum is swinging in America, in Florida and in South Hillsborough and things are going to get better. Did anyone really believe that it wouldn’t?

That said, I don’t think many people would want a return to the madness that gripped us in the first half of the last decade — a time when armies of bulldozers were threatening every last tree and the little green space that is left here. We are still feeling the pain of the repercussions of that madness. But at the same time, it’s clear that some people — people smart enough to have millions of dollars at their disposal during a time when millions aren’t necessarily easy to come by — feel that the best is yet to come in this area. And more than just spouting platitudes of doom or euphoria, they are putting real money where their mouths are.

There are those who believe America will go the way of the Roman Empire, and perhaps that we have already become a second tier nation. Yes, we have challenges in this nation. Our infrastructure is crumbling and, in my opinion, we are not investing nearly enough in the education of the nation’s greatest resource — our children (or, as I like to think of them, the people who will grow up to pay into Social Security so I, too, can someday get back what I paid in). While at present there appear to be no good solutions, there is also no good end to the growing income disparity. We simply cannot survive as a nation of “haves” and “have-nots” from my perspective. So yes, we have serious challenges but there’s nothing new in that, we’ve always had serious challenges.

And there is also nothing new in that America remains the world’s economy, and, despite what you may have heard, remains the world’s largest manufacturer (although that could possibly end this year but c’mon, China has more than a BILLION people! It’s amazing they aren’t already the largest and it is still uncertain when they will actually become the largest).

Indefinite growth may be impossible for a corporation, but for a nation, it is just plain survival. We will continue to grow as long as we remain committed to our nation, our ideals and our neighbors.

This isn’t the Roman Empire and our best days aren’t anywhere near over. Seriously, did you really think they were?  When it comes right down to it, is anyone really willing to bet against the United States?  I’m not — not now, not for a very long time. Sure, we have some big-time kinks, quirks and problems to work out, but in my opinion, we’re just getting good at this stuff. The best is yet to come.

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