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Postcards from America

Pillars of a Great Community - Part Two

...and stories of Pebble Beach, Atmospheric Rivers, and John Steinbeck


Hello, Apopka. It's been a couple of weeks since we published part two of our journey across the country entitled "Postcards from America." In that time, we've remained in California, heading north along the coast. We spent time mostly in the Monterey Peninsula and visited the Pebble Beach Golf Course. We didn't play that historic course because it was 40 degrees, with 30 mph winds and rain howling off the bay. But from the warmth of its cozy bar, we watched multiple foursomes (who paid about $700 to play, including a caddie) brave the weather and conclude their rounds on the spectacular backdrop of the 18th hole. 

Rain, cold and windy conditions at Pebble Beach GC defined our day at the iconic golf club.
Rain, cold and windy conditions at Pebble Beach GC defined our day at the iconic golf club.

I guess when you pay that much money, you're going to finish, no matter the conditions.

We also spent an interesting evening at Hellam's Tobacco and Wine Bar, which is the oldest cigar store west of Chicago and the oldest business in Monterey. I almost had the honor of paying off a very old tab allegedly left by iconic author John Steinbeck, but the owner didn't know the amount and mentioned something about 100 years of interest on the tab... so it didn't happen.

Writers try to stick together, but a century of compounding interest was the winter of my discontent in settling Steinbeck's tab.

You either get it or you don't...

Now, for the next couple of months, we'll be in Napa Valley - Wine Country! I'm sure there will be more stories to share in this area.

California is a beautiful state. Take a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, and you'll see stunning views of the ocean on one side and emerald-green hills that rival Ireland's scenic splendor on the other. It's diverse and massive. There are big cities, midsize communities, and small towns with populations under 100. And like the diversity of its land and density, California also has a wide range of weather.

Since we crossed the Arizona border into this state, we've experienced wind, rain, snow, sunny days, and a weather condition called "atmospheric rivers". According to the National Weather Service, an atmospheric river (AR) is "like a fire hose that carries saturated air from the tropics to higher latitudes, dumping relentless rain or snow." The last AR, which struck California a week ago, left soil overly saturated and vulnerable to new flooding and rapid runoffs. And before that, they were dealing with a drought.

Here's a little info on ARs:

North America from space. Elements of this image furnished by NASA
North America from space. Elements of this image furnished by NASA

There have been 12 ARs in California in 2023. We experienced three of them, and I can say, as a Florida resident for over 50 years, they are rough, but I would take 12 ARs over one Category-5 hurricane.

But enough about the weather.

In part two, I started a series called "Pillars of a Great Community". I listed four, with four to come. These are, in my opinion, the unofficial cornerstones to successful towns and cities that I keep seeing wherever we travel. It's a subjective, non-data-driven list of traits I see around the United States in cities moving in the right direction.

The first four pillars were: flourishing downtowns, public/private partnerships, local patriots, and libraries. The fifth is a very familiar subject to Apopkans.

Pillar #5: Economic Development Departments

I know what you're thinking... but no, this isn't about Apopka. No, it isn't a trigger to restart a settled debate. It's a recurring theme in many successful and emerging areas we have visited.

We spent about a month in Harford County, Maryland. It's a midsize county of approximately 260,000 residents. It's situated between Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay.

We walked the charming downtown area of Bel Air, a town inside Harford County, which is filled with retail shops, restaurants, historic buildings, art, culture, and entertainment... all within blocks of each other. Then we passed a building called "Harford County Office of Community and Economic Development Department."

Downtown Bel Air, Maryland
Downtown Bel Air, Maryland

How could we resist?

We entered the office and were immediately greeted by Amy McClaskey, the Administrative Secretary to the Director. We talked with her for about an hour about economic development, the city, the county, demographics, and the overall scheme of things in the area. Holt seemed to have comprehensive knowledge about the area - especially if you were interested in opening a business.

She was the "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once" person for Harford County.

She even had the keys to vacant buildings and space around downtown Bel Air if you wanted to take a quick look and not wait for a realtor or building owner.

One of the projects the Harford County EDD launched is called "Harford Has It: Buy-In"

According to the Harford County website, "Harford Has It: Buy In "is a shop local initiative that encourages Harford County residents to focus their spending within the community. The Office of Economic Development commissioned the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore to do a study on the economic impacts of buying locally in Harford County. Based on the findings, it was clear that buying local - as opposed to outside the county - could have a significant impact on the economic vibrancy of the community in both job creation and tax revenue.

This partnership, initiated by the Harford County Office of Economic Development and the Harford County Chamber of Commerce, is extended to county and municipal chambers, as well as business associations to help spread the word on how focusing your consumer spending habits locally in Harford County, is a win-win for consumers, businesses, and residents. Download our logo bundle below, check out the economic impact study, follow the campaign on social media, and more!"

They also conducted a study that applied the "one more" theory of purchasing locally to jobs created and local money staying in the community:

A couple of examples: 

  • 1 extra visit to a local restaurant per month = 1802 additional jobs;
  • 1 extra gift purchase every 6 months = 283 more jobs.

Click on the .pdf below to see all the ways they approached it, or click here for the link if easier. 

The Economic Impacts of buying Local
The Economic Impacts of buying Local

It's just one of the many strong examples of what a talented economic development team can do with a growing city/county, but I think you may be getting the idea by now.

Pillar #6: Young Professionals

To have a truly successful and emerging city, you need a youthquake.

In cities like Portland, Maine; Columbus, Ohio; Chicago; and other successful and emerging cities, we saw a large number of young professionals downtown at restaurants, retail shops, museums, and walking the streets.

Downtown Portland, Maine
Downtown Portland, Maine

We may joke about millennials, Generation Y and Z-aged groups coming back home to live with their parents, but the reality is they make up a great deal of a community's living, working, playing, and spending. 

Many assume there are two simple factors that influence people's decision to uproot and move to a new place of residence: employment and housing. But this may be just one part of the story for the younger generations.

A recent article by the American Institute for Economic Research revealed different priorities for college graduates:

"Millennials don't just move for a job. Instead, around 70 percent of young college graduates decide where to relocate based on quality-of-life factors such as a robust restaurant scene and good mass transit. Once a young person decides to move, urban life and city amenities influence their choice of the city more than economic conditions.

Millennials have become the economic driving force in America. They're the largest generation, represent the biggest percentage of the country's workforce, and hold the most purchasing power. As millennials age and their incomes grow, their spending power is only set to increase."

In October 2022, a Politico survey of American mayors found that 85% of them considered attracting this desirable demographic one of their top 10 priorities.

They should be seen as essential to a thriving city.

Pillar #7: Arts and Entertainment

The sign of a great community can sometimes be seen from the strength of its culture.

Art, entertainment, and historical sites are a powerful economic force and can act as a magnet for growth. Even more important, they help educate and inspire citizens and stimulate creativity.

The JFK Museum in Hyannis, MA
The JFK Museum in Hyannis, MA

Industries that are planning relocation or expansion place great emphasis on a healthy cultural climate. In a past survey conducted by the California State joint Legislative Committee on Cultural Affairs, 99% of the chief executive officers who were questioned stated that the availability of cultural activities in an area is an important consideration in choosing a new location.

It's also a major driver for tourism.

The Travel Industry Association of America also did a study on arts, entertainment, and historical sites and found that 65% of American adult travelers say they included a cultural, arts, heritage, or historical activity or event while on a trip of 50 miles or more, one-way, in the past year. This equates to 92.7 million cultural travelers.

Pillar #8: Diversity

This stretches beyond the typical definition of multiple cultures and races.

Most great cities have what is called "Mixed Land Use," which means areas that serve more than one function and thus attract more than one type of person. Denise and I saw this in multiple downtown areas like Asheville and Hendersonville, NC; Annapolis and Havre de Grace, MD; and St. Louis, MO.

An example of an effective Mixed Use building in Portland, Maine.
An example of an effective Mixed Use building in Portland, Maine.

Cities and towns, big and small, that can combine residential, commercial, cultural, institutional and industrial uses with pedestrian connections favor diversity and stronger neighborhood character. Diverse neighborhoods are more healthy and tolerant and tend to flourish.

That's all for part three, Apopka. Have a great weekend. We'll catch back up with you soon.

Pillars of Great Community, Postcards from America, BelAir, Harford County, Economic Development Department, Maryland, Maine, Portland, California, Monterey Peninsula, Pebble Beach GC


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  • MamaMia

    Nice Reggie! Keep having a great time, both of you two. A youthquake? Okay. Just don't have a California earthquake, or a mudslide (at least, not the non-alcoholic kind) or a wildfire, while you are out there visiting California. Are you missing the wonderful, friendly, and kind residents here in Apopka yet? Are you homesick for us yet, and can't wait to return back to your old stomping ground here in Apopka? LOL

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