National consumer and business patterns are shifting once again. Gulf, Franklin and Bay Counties could do well to notice and position themselves, individually and together, for what may well be inevitable.
Until fairly recently, Americans have been driven to patterns of urban-driven largeness and centralizing acquisition-at-any-cost; now an increasingly significant portion of the national profile is noticeably changing to resemble small-town Main Street America once again:
an authentic, essentially self-sufficient yet naturally-connected lifestyle,
with products of meaningful quality and indigenous spirit and creativity, and
an ever increasing access to a greater range of personal choices attached to greater potential for local resources.
Rural – one might even say ‘traditional’ – virtues of personal thrift, collective care, mutual trust and directness of civic engagement are all starting to overwhelm the “devil may care” frenetic acquisition and consumption of impersonal and anonymous ‘things’ sought merely for status or power consolidation purposes.
City folk are becoming increasingly aware that once they’ve ‘made it’ in life, they don’t necessarily know what they want to do with it. They have often found themselves searching increasingly for better ‘purpose’ in their investments – while intuitively scaling back their direct involvement to less dense environments where they can have meaningful personal influence and spiritually sensible integrity in their whole lives.
Consumer Patterns – Trending from shorter-term Conspicuous Celebrity to longer-term Cultural Identification
John Gerzema, who oversees “the world’s largest database of consumer insights” to help companies anticipate and adapt to social change, provides statistics that may seem surprising, but are in fact compelling. His own summary is that,
“People are returning to old fashioned values to build new lives of purpose and connection … and a lifestyle more focused on community, connection, quality, and creativity.”
The intangible values (i.e. the “brand attributes”) of consumer choices have been slowly morphing since the dot-com boom & bust, and have been accelerating with the creation of a class of ‘real estate refugees’ after the mortgage/financial meltdown in 2008 – reforming how consumers, and the companies that want to anticipate their needs, conduct their business affairs and adapt with ‘leading edge’ branding:
“kindness and empathy” – up 391 percent
“friendly” – up 148 percent
“high quality” – up 124 percent
“socially responsible” – up 63 percent
“exclusive” – down 60 percent
“arrogant” – down 41 percent
“sensuous” – down 30 percent
“daring” – down 20 percent
These findings measure, and are contrary to the mainstream ‘common sense’ of increasingly fewer and fewer advertisers, the fact that ‘empathy’ and ‘kindness’ are NOT an economic weakness; and, in fact, are BETTER product and branding attributes than ‘arrogance,’ ‘daring,’ and/or ‘exclusivity.’ 400 percent is an enormous bias in attitude of what consumers have come to expect and affirm when making their choices in spending – and in living.
Southern Hospitality is back – and it looks alot like a small, traditional town that has kept to its knitting throughout the globalization trends and financial overreaches by the rest of the world.
Demographic Patterns – Trending from central city/suburb Megapolis to rurban/estate Micropolis
In 2000, the US Census Bureau was compelled to establish a new classification of the Micropolitan Statistical Area to account for significant phenomena that was noticeably distinct from the misleading labels of strictly “rural” or strictly “metropolitan.” This rogue class falls somewhere in between the two, and is acting in a different way from either – and yet draws its inspirations from both.
By 2010, there were 576 Micropolitan Areas designated – accounting for over 30 million people, or 10 percent of the nation’s population. These areas were either too commercial or industrial to be considered strictly rural, or they lacked the population to be considered urbane. And they were growing too quickly, visibly and distinctly to either ignore them or to label them incorrectly.
The concept of the budding ‘micropolis’ clearly warrants the separate attention, distinct credibility and apparent viability that it has already begun to command.
A slower lifestyle, expansive natural vistas, lower real estate and business overhead costs, less major crime, and higher civic engagement all attract former city dwellers, especially ones now concerned with raising their kids or grandkids.
Better educational opportunities, modern and technological infrastructure and conveniences, and higher employment potential likewise attracts more rural families while reassuring them with a requisite country-side feel.
Both ends are increasingly coming to a discernible middle ground – the micropolis. This trending toward balance of natural, spiritual and practical looks alot like certain areas of the Florida panhandle as it already is.
On the Verge and Poised to Grow – in Port St. Joe
The city of Port St. Joe, on the Bay of St. Joseph at the ‘sunset face’ of the panhandle’s ‘trigger,’ is at the verge of two distinct and friendly-rivaling regional branding campaigns. Geographically blessed at the far east of the Emerald Coast with its largely developed white sand beaches and at the western-most edge of the Forgotten Coast with its largely undeveloped natural gulf beaches, this city and this Gulf sound – taken together – are somewhat roguishly and steadfastly distinct from either the Forgotten Coast introversion or Emerald Coast extroversion:
A naturally embayed natural deep water port basin with no significant freshwater influence (the only such bay in the eastern Gulf of Mexico) and three-quarters of which is designated an aquatic preserve, the bay area is abundant with plant and animal species, many of which are unique in Florida and the Gulf, and a few which are unique in all North America. This collective stewardship obligation requires one to think through and attempt to anticipate the unintended consequences of one’s choices and actions. It really does slow down time, if for no better purpose than deep consideration.
A truly micropolitan population possessing an enormous potential of energy, experience and brain-power – now largely in the retirement demographic, but increasingly in business and cultural non-profits as well – all just waiting to be tapped for arts, education, direct civic engagement and the consistency of the rule of law – all prerequisites for sustainable, meaningful business. An instinctive sensibility to economic, technological and political cycles – and their influences upon one another – creates a broader than average mindset toward integrity of desire, power, meaning and purpose, particularly in democratic public process.
If “luck favors the prepared,” then the next great tide of prosperity to enter St. Joseph Bay will be ushered in with a full vision of this place, its people, and its future, combined with the unique natural, historic and culturally significant assets it already possesses:
being Florida’s Constitutional birthplace and the origin and organic foundation of its Florida law (with only a single vote keeping it from actually becoming the state’s Capital),
a progressive “mill town” master plan by the influential ES Draper – still visibly influencing the city’s future development, and
a once again pristine and vibrant bay teeming with life, some of which can now be found in but a few other places.
The heart of that future will be welcoming and wanting to share a sense of being on the verge of a destiny deeply rooted in the best memories of Old Florida, authentic Southern Hospitality at its very best, and not just a little kindly bewilderment at why it has taken the rest of y’all so long to join them going forward. So have some sweet tea and sit awhile, share a few tall tales and chuckle while the rest of the world figures out that THIS is already pretty darn close to the way it really oughtta be.
We really are lucky.