Happy New Year, everyone. Hopefully, you and your families had a joyous holiday season and 2018 will be a wonderful year for you.
The winter months for me mean that, most generally, I am not as busy as I am the rest of the year. It's the time of year I take off and "recharge my batteries" in preparation for the new season of work. It is the time of year when I enjoy traveling to the Caribbean and warmer weather for a few weeks.
This season is different because the little island I like to visit, a British territory, was hit hard by Hurricane Irma as a Category 5 (some actually are calling it a Category 6).
After Irma, people came together, cleared debris from their property and roads, and drivers, customs people and other employees got to piers and unloaded goods from ships and delivered them to stores. Grocery stores were opened two to three days after the storm. The amazing thing is they did this on their own without help from the United Kingdom. The island did not declare itself a disaster area. Its residents did not want someone else to come in and take over, they were determined to remain independent and get it done on their own.
Their power company got electrical service restored to the entire nation ahead of schedule, Christmas was their goal. Everybody had power by Dec. 15. Internet, television and landline providers still have a lot of work ahead of them. Places that have Internet are offering free WiFi to all who need it.
The lack of tourism will be more difficult to deal with for the island than the wrath of Irma. Over the years, the people of the island have, basically, put all of their economic eggs in one basket - tourism. They no longer harvest sea salt as they once did nor do they manufacture rum. At one time they actually farmed some crops, but that isn't done today, although some residents grow their own vegetables and fruits and some raise goats, sheep, cows, hogs and chickens.
After Irma, local restaurants quickly cleaned and repaired what was damaged, as did locally owned hotels. It's the large foreign hotels that draw thousands of people annually that really drive the economy. Unfortunately, they have not opened at this time; some will not open until February or March.
It's sad to go to a restaurant or beach that normally is busy and you are one of only two or three occupied tables or people on the beach. The lack of patrons leads me to leave extra tip money. I know for a fact most people in the restaurant and tourism industry work more then one job. Today, they are lucky if they have one place of business to work.
Amazingly, the locals have an optimistic look about them, it is as though they are saying, "This, too, will pass." It will pass, but in the short term it is painful financially. I never hear residents complain about how tough things are for them; they are resilient. Throughout their history they have faced hardship from Mother Nature or fighting with other islands in a quest for independence. (Their tenacity paid off in 1967 when the island won independence from Saint Kitts and Nevis.)
To me the lesson is, diversify your economy. Iowans learned this during the farm crisis. Then-Gov. Terry Branstad began to diversify our economy so we were not so dependent on agriculture. Since the 1980s we have come a long way, nevertheless we are still dependent on the farm economy. Although our economy is hurt when farmers are not making money and they are not borrowing or spending, it is not as bad as it was in the '80s. It truly is a trickle-down effect. When the farmers are not buying, it hits all of us, but other industries are still supporting the state.
The small Caribbean island I visit does not have other industry to help sustain it through difficult times.
Next week: Al Sturgeon
Charese Yanney of Sioux City is owner and managing partner of Guarantee Roofing, Siding and Insulation Co. She serves on the Iowa Department of Transportation Commission, the Iowa Economic Development Authority Vision Iowa board, the Missouri River Historical Development board and the Siouxland Initiative Executive Committee.