Regional Scan Brings Problems Into Focus



A rise in sea level and widening in income disparities continue to threaten the region’s economic future, according to a regional scan released Tuesday by the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. Officials hope the document encourages leaders in the nonprofit and public sectors to focus on these issues to preserve and enhance the area’s quality of life. “The delta between incomes is a clearly worsening trend with demonstrable, direct impacts to many facets of Sarasota County’s economic and social welfare,” says Jon Thaxton, senior vice president of Community Investment for the foundation. “We really need to be looking at this not as a discussion of haves and have-nots but as part of a discussion of a balanced economy and a sustainable, social community.”

Titled “Moving Forward Together,” the Gulf Coast Regional Scan 2017 marks the fourth such survey of the area’s economic and environmental needs; the last edition came out in 2013. Evan Enarson of Cambridge Systematics authored the report; he says regular reexamination of the region’s needs only enhances the ability to improve life for those in the community. “Not a lot of communities do this on a regular, recurring basis,” he tells SRQ. Since conducting the first survey in 2009, he has seen improvements on some issues, such as the cultural separation between north and south Sarasota, but there remain long-term issues threatening the area, and cooperative solutions should be found on issues from water supply to land-use.

The report noted a 145-percent increase between 2005 and 2015 in Sarasota County households receiving some kind of nutritional assistance, and found the 45 percent of jobs created in that same 10-year timeframe paid below average annual wages. Today, the county hosts the 13th worst ranked income inequality disparity within Florida’s 67 counties. Problems could also worsen with a third of the county county workforce eligible for retirement as soon as 2020 and with a projected 40 percent of the population of the county to be age 65 or older in the year 2030.

A survey also found that transportation needs served the greatest threat to Sarasota County’s tourism-based economy, and that 68 percent of those in the area believe climate change is happening and demand a plan to mitigate environmental problems like beach erosion. “Without respect to whether man is causing or impacting climate change, we know definitively the sea levels are rising, and as the rise continues the intensity of even regular storms will have a greater impact on the community,” Thaxton says.

The scene comes at a time when government spending cutbacks threaten social programs in the area, and Thaxton says the nonprofit sector on its own cannot make up that shortfall even with the elimination of all waste. The foundation hopes to see the regional scan help officials best attack the greatest threats in the region.

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