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It must be the natural beauty and recollections people have about Cape Cod that keep them coming here. The number of people who live here year round continues to rise. And the attraction of the place to summer visitors is as strong as ever.
Yet, as this growth continues, so too do our exasperations. Roadways clog. Living costs rise. Municipal services fall behind the public demand. Property owners feel overtaxed too. And what positive comments do you want to make about the state's funding formula for the school systems? Whew.
Yet people continue to come. And what this does to the character of the Cape community is a question that is hard to answer because it is so subjective. It can't easily be measured, and yet it is a standard that we try to apply in our regulatory scheme in assessing the merits of a new project or development. On the Cape, these questions of community character have been debated for years, and the debate will continue. So, in that context, consider several assessments about what is happening here with which you might agree or disagree.
First, the rising population of second home owners and summer visitors creates problems that go far beyond sheer numbers. Understandably, they do not have a primary commitment to the Cape comparable to the commitment they make to their home community. And while these residents have contributed resources of money and experience in many instances to improve our quality of life, these donations sometimes have more to do with their self-interest than with solving the problems of our community.
It's understandable why summer residents support a quality health care system and give to the hospital. It's also understandable why they support the efforts of land trusts to purchase open space. But the list drops off pretty quickly after that. What's the motivation to attend to other community needs less directed to a visitors' enjoyment of the place. Affordable housing? Local schools and municipal services? Technology infrastructure for the region? I'm not suggesting that summer residents are not committed to these objectives. In fact, they are and, just like us, they give to their home community. But therein lies the rub. The Cape is not their home.
Second, as an economic development strategy, some local business leaders over the past several years have suggested that we should look for ways to connect our business activities more directly to this influx of wealth. Yet, while this may work well for some businesses, especially those in the financial services field, this is not an economic development strategy that works well for all of us. It misses a fundamental point: We all can't sustain ourselves by serving as financial or legal advisors, or by selling financial services, or by mowing lawns, or performing care-taking services, or by brokering house sales. While those activities may give rise to a robust service sector, we need a far broader base of economic activity if we are to provide real opportunities for all of us to develop careers and attain rewarding work-related goals.
And as the demographics of our region reflect a rise in the Cape population and the level of its accumulated wealth, they define a market attractive to regional and national companies. Yet while the per capita wealth reflected in the demographics rises, it does not represent an increase in the fundamental wealth of the region. The rise in wealth statistics has more to do with economic activity that takes place off-Cape in other more robust commercial and industrial centers. We are a vacation mecca. Wealthy people vacation and own residences here. The Cape is not their home. They have not accumulated wealth that they earned here.
However, it is the presence of this wealth that expands our choices, for good or ill. We buy coffee at Dunkin' Donuts and books at Borders. We know the level of food service at the Olive Garden or the Outback. We patronize the malls and look for bargains from Bed, Bath and Beyond. These merchants reflect our regional and national culture. They do not reflect Cape Cod.
And in many ways, these new entrants to this market undermine our economic base and the general sense of what defines the subjective character of the Cape community. Recently, news related to the merger activity in the banking sector has shown some of these negative consequences. The fifty people laid off by CCBT are people who are well entrenched here. And they define our community as much as the gulls and plovers, if not more so. And, as a locally headquartered business, so did Cape Cod Bank & Trust. It knew well and participated actively in the Cape community. It exhibited a desire to help address local concerns.
The effects of the layoffs and the merger will ripple out for a while. And, in the effort to address broader community problems, the changes are hard to see as positive. It is a false hope to think that newly arriving businesses, second home owners, and summer visitors will make significant commitments of their money and experience. Ironically, it's because they are just like us, they make those commitments at home. The Cape is not their home.
So, finding solutions to our community concerns is up to those of us who live here. The wealth we have is the wealth that has always been here, the wealth we have in human spirit and enterprise. It is up to us to do a better job of combining our resources in ways that enhance their efficiency and value. We need to work in complementary ways that cut across our geographic town identities as well as our different economic sectors. We will establish a more solid foundation for our future growth to the extent that we connect health care providers with educational institutions and business. There are many examples locally where mutual support is working. We need to do more of it. Now is the time to reach out. The Cape is our home.
-- Allen R. Larson
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