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New Nantucket Economic Development Forum Meeting

THROWING PAINT

IF WE ARE NOT PART OF THE SOLUTION, WE ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM

What do YOU think are the major challenges facing Nantucket today?  As a new full time resident of Nantucket, I am only beginning to think about the issues that face this community.  When I summered here, I naively and unquestioningly took for granted all the privileges and luxuries that I enjoyed.  I spent my days at the beaches or the club, shopped in town, and ate at the amazing restaurants.  A typical summer resident, I saw only the beauty and the ease of a privileged life on this Island.  

Of course, I understood that there were many summer workers who cooked and served the meals that I ate, who gave the tennis lessons that I took, and who kept the beaches clean and safe, but I never spent much time considering where they came from or how they lived when they were here. Intellectually, I knew that the Nantucket population ballooned from 11,000 winter residents to 50,000 to 60,000 people in the summer, but I never consciously thought much about how many workers were needed to support this surge in population.  All I saw was the idyllic and spectacularly beautiful island that Nantucket undoubtedly is, and I enjoyed the luxury that these workers provided.

Now, however, as a true full-time resident, I recognize that Nantucket—like every community—has challenges.  I also know, as a child of the sixties, that if I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.  One of my goals for this winter is to try to better understand the community of which I am now a part and to discover the ways that I can contribute to making it an even stronger community--one that is a great place for everyone to live—not just those with many financial resources.

My first introduction to one of the issues that Nantucket faces came when I was invited to attend a meeting of Nantucket business owners and managers that was held at the Westmoor Club on January 22 to discuss the three critical issues they face each summer:  hiring, retention, and housing of quality employees.  I was surprised to learn that often these workers live in crowded houses—four or more to a room.  Some exceptionally talented and qualified workers cannot be hired because we cannot provide adequate housing.  Retaining bright, well-qualified employees is dependent on how well they can live when they are here and the support systems we can provide for them.

Last fall, a small group of business owners met in a peer group at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss these challenges. Joanna Roche, Director of the Spa at the Westmoor Club, and someone you may also know from her radio broadcasts and articles here in the Nantucket Chronicle, invited a larger group of business owners and managers to meet at the Westmoor Club to brainstorm ideas and to find ways to solve the problems they face.  Thus the Nantucket Economic Development Forum was born. 

You will no doubt recognize many of the people who attended this first meeting.  The group was composed of prominent Nantucket business leaders including Henry Sanford of Housing Nantucket, Janet Schulte of the Chamber of Commerce, Bettina and Eric Landt and Michael Fiasconaro of Nantucket Island Resorts, Mark Snider of the Nantucket Hotel, Dan Drake and Tom Rafter of the Nantucket Airport,  Francine Balling, of Nantucket Community Sailing, Suzanne Fosyth of Coast Home, and Brent Taramella, Joanna Roche, Taylor Devine, and Joshua Gray of the Westmoor Club along with Business Coach and Consultant, Marsha Egan, and Bob Egan of the Egan Group.

In a highly creative and innovative atmosphere that challenged participants to come up with deeper insights than the facile ones that immediately come to mind, facilitator Mark Forsyth, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Ken Blanchard, led the group through a series of creative exercises followed by discussion.  A visual exploration designed to inspire conversation by inviting participants to see patterns, perspectives, and alternatives for the Nantucket community through a series of pictures created a spirited dialogue that helped the group to consider new questions as they explored this landscape of a complex set of issues.  Thinking metaphorically helped the group to carry their ideas and insights to a richer and deeper level in which they explored the history, roots, and culture of Nantucket as a way of understanding the present challenges of doing business here.

Needless to say this dynamic, highly knowledgeable, and very motivated group asked the right questions and brainstormed possible solutions.  Henry Sanford focused on the need for changes in zoning to allow for dorms and rental units. He suggested that it might be possible to work closely with the Land Bank to secure funding for affordable housing projects, and he urged people to vote “yes” on the Housing Tax article, which he said “is the only proposal to create an insightful solution to affordable housing in the long term.  It will hopefully galvanize private citizens to focus their philanthropic efforts and be part of the solution.”  Recruiting and retaining quality employees was of particular importance to Eric Landt of the Wauwinet as well as Mark Snider of the Nantucket Hotel, both of whom suggested the necessity for excellent and affordable child care on the Island along with opportunities for employees to maintain a quality of life beyond the job. Other suggestions for retaining quality employees included promoting from within in order to give employees an opportunity to grow professionally, offering work related travel stipends for off-season, and exploring opportunities for virtual work from remote locations. The group concluded the meeting by considering orientation and community immersion programs for workers new to the Island as well as scholarships, career tracks, and a community “Welcome Wagon—Nantucket Brand.”   

The group intends to build on the suggestions and ideas generated at this gathering by meeting again on March 11th in a desire to continue collaboration and keep the momentum going.  

This meeting opened my eyes to some of the problems that Nantucket faces—problems that are often overlooked by many of us.  As I settle into this wonderful Island community, more and more I realize that I need to observe and understand more than the beauty and joy that I experience every day.  I also need to recognize the challenges that we face and be part of the solutions.  As this winter progresses, I plan to explore other concerns, and look at ways to make a difference.

What are your thoughts on these issues or any of the other issues facing Nantucket?

Let's have a dialogue about the challenges facing Nantucket--challenges that may or may not be readily apparent--and explore positive ways to address them.