We are a resurrection people. Living on the Gulf of Mexico has made us so and those who fail to recognize that key component of our DNA will forever discount and underestimate us. We live under the annual threat of hurricanes, but no matter how devastating any storm may be we clean up the mess, we pull together and we rebuild.
Hurricane Ivan rocked Escambia and Santa Rosa counties in September 2004. Most of us woke up the morning after the storm with our roofs leaking or missing. Trees blocked streets and bridges were washed out. People were left without food, water, shelter and possibly even jobs.
A decade later, downtown Pensacola is going through a renaissance. The recovery is paper thin, but a vibrancy exists that other cities wish they could have. The once dormant corners of Palafox and Main streets are now a robust retail destination and Palafox Place has replaced Gregory Street has Pensacola’s restaurant row.
Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key have also bounced back with record numbers of tourists. The handoff of tourism marketing from the Greater Pensacola Chamber to the new Visit Pensacola, Inc. has gone well and the local economy should reap the benefits this year.
More job opportunity is on the horizon with Navy Federal Credit Union, ST Aerospace and Offshore Inland hiring by the hundreds. Though leaders at the city and county are not quite yet in step, the new independent agency being established to focus on economic development should take politics out of that arena.
That leaves two lingering problems that need the same type of attention and emphasis as our economic recovery—health and public education. Physical and mental health outcomes in this community are deplorable. We have over a decade of research that proves we are headed in the wrong direction. The Partnership for a Healthy Community is trying to help, but the effort will need more community-wide support.
Politicians and business leaders don’t like to talk about the state of public education in Escambia County. When they do, only a few highlights are mentioned. The Escambia County school system is at a crisis level. The students are performing below their grade level and nearly a third are not graduating. No matter how hard one tries to polish that cow patty it will never be a brownie.
The time has come to apply the same spirit we marshaled after Hurricane Ivan to health and education. As it was in the fall of 2004, failure is not an option.
Otherwise, our resurrection will never be complete.