Four years ago, Hernando County planners were confident that the local population growth would last, perhaps indefinitely. Then the housing bubble burst and the area has been in decline ever since.
Apart from cutting back on spending for projects the county no longer needs or can afford, what does the future hold for Hernando County, Fla.?
The answer depends on leadership.
Over the past two decades, county officials have kept their focus on supporting the construction industry, despite objections from residents calling for more economic diversity.
In addition to keeping all their economic ‘eggs’ in one basket, local officials seemed content to continue to govern their small town the same way they did in the 1970’s. And therein may lie the true problem.
In an age where state-of-the-art computer technology lasts about 6 months, sticking to ‘what they know,’ is inexplicable.
Before Hernando County can be a serious economic player in the 21st century, it would behoove county leaders to consider the following:
- There are literally thousands of rural Hernando County residents who, in 2013, still do not have high-speed internet. No U-Verse; no Fios; no Roadrunner -just whatever crawls though aging, primitive phone lines. This issue should have been addressed 10 years ago.
- It remains so expensive to rent a storefront in Hernando County, few residents can afford to start a small business. Without the population and spending power of a big city, it’s not difficult to understand why unjustifiably high rent has left Hernando County with so many half-empty and abandoned shopping centers.
- While paychecks for all but county employees have seen dramatic reductions, taxes and fees for residents have risen, and services have been cut or eliminated. The county also remains littered with eyesore reminders of the foreclosure crisis. Some empty homes can’t be seen through the waist-high weeds that smother their front yards.
Simply put, there is a void of value for people living in, or considering moving to Hernando County. This is likely a significant reason why growth has stumbled into a remarkable hole.
The good news is much of what plagues the area can be remedied, and it starts with leaders who can objectively ask themselves, “Why would anyone want to move here?”
In the 21st century, it is going to take more than rows of new home construction to make Hernando County a desirable destination point. Technology is not the enemy, it’s an asset. And solving problems can take a small town a lot further than ignoring them.
There was a bumper sticker that was popular a few years back when the housing boom was sizzling and thousands of snowbirds were making Hernando County their new home. It said, “We don’t care how you did it up north.” If this county is going to have a better future, it needs a new bumper sticker that reads, “We’re smart enough to know we were wrong and are willing to fix it.”
All it takes is leadership, and a desire to honestly address problems in a way that benefits the many, instead of a chosen few.
Author’s note: This report includes opinions and commentary based on independent analysis of official documents, public information, and experiences as a resident of Hernando County, Fla.