Mayor stresses upside of Cape in down time
Negative economic statistics in Cape Coral and across Southwest Florida — No. 1 in foreclosures, 10 percent unemployment — have turned the national spotlight on the city, but Mayor Jim Burch is using the opportunity to give national media outlets the positive side of the Cape.
In his “State of the City” address to the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral Wednesday, Burch acknowledged the city’s troubles while pointing out its attributes.
“We’ll return to a good (housing) market. It may not be in six months, but we’ll return to a good market,” Burch said.
He also emphasized the aura of positivity he said remains in the area in the wake of President Barack Obama’s visit to Fort Myers Tuesday.
“It was a great day, regardless of your party affiliation, regardless of how you feel about the stimulus package,” Burch said.
Obama also visited Elkhart, Ind., a city plagued by rising unemployment, on Monday to push the more than $800 billion stimulus legislation currently being debated by Congress.
National Public Radio got Burch and the mayor of Elkhart, Dick Moore, together via a teleconference call Tuesday, and Burch again tried to remain on the positive side.
“I was allowed to go first in that interview. I wanted to make sure at least two-thirds of what I say about the city is all good, and then, of course, they want to hear all about the problems we have,” he said.
Business leaders were generally receptive to the mayor’s message, but one audience member wanted to see an end to the infighting between Cape Coral council members.
Christopher Spiro, a chamber board director and marketing professional, said Cape Coral has an excellent quality of life, but falls short in the area of cohesive local government — two major aspects in a business’ decision to relocate to a certain area.
“We have things here that nobody else does. We don’t have cooperative government,” Spiro said. He also asked Burch to push the positive aspects of the Cape to counteract the dire economic numbers.
“The negative information is going to find its way to the local media. How can we find a way to pump the positive information out there?” Spiro asked.
Burch agreed, and said the groundwork needs to be laid now, during the down side of the economic cycle, in order to reap the benefits of the upside of the cycle.
“When you go down so hard, we’ll come back strong, and if we don’t lay that foundation, we’ll have missed an opportunity,” he said.
Chamber Chairman Elmer Tabor also stressed the need to accentuate the positive about Cape Coral, and said newscasts about the city’s dire economic straights were overblown.
“There’s a lot of money in Cape Coral. There is business going on in Cape Coral. We’re not all living in cardboard boxes,” Tabor said.
One way the city could be aided in the short-term while simultaneously providing long-term sustainability would be to receive stimulus funds for infrastructure projects such as the utility expansion project. Council members approved a water utility project in the north Cape on Feb. 2, but then rescinded the measure on Monday, mainly over economic concerns in the north, which has seen a higher concentration of foreclosures.
“I don’t mind saying I’ll be asking for stimulus funds,” Burch said. “We should not feel guilty for trying to do whatever other city and county in the state is trying to do.”