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David Cox: Surviving the storm

Column by David Cox

Credit markets falter. The Dow plunges the stock market into depths not seen for years. Banks close or sell out. The state goes into the hole. In this time of transition, no one knows who to look to for national or even international leadership in what is becoming the first major crisis of the new global economy.

Is it time for us in the Valley to get scared of the gathering storm?

Many are getting frightened. One of those crisis-ridden banks has local branches. Retirees have seen their pension funds and 401(k)s become, as a candidate put it, 101(k)s. Some worry, rightly, for the safety of their jobs.

In these daunting times, I see some unique strengths that we here have, and with them, some opportunities not only to survive this scare but also to prosper anew. And though I speak specifically of the city of Lexington, I believe what I say applies to Buena Vista and Rockbridge County as well.

First, look at our “industries”: Education. Retirement. Tourism. Education is about as recession-proof as any that one can imagine. Students will still come to W&L, VMI, and SVU-maybe more on scholarship, perhaps, but it’s in the interests of each to maintain their enrollment, with all the jobs that are needed to sustain it. And Dabney S. Lancaster Community College has already seen a spike in numbers: Yes, it and VMI may suffer from state money cuts. But all of these are stable institutions on which our area can rely.

Retirement is another relatively recession-proof economic engine. Yes, incomes may decrease for retirees. Spending and charitable giving may go down with resulting ripple effects that should be of concern. But they will still need the basic services that our economy offers regardless of where the Dow stands, such as health care, that can’t be outsourced.

Tourism may be our weakest link. Summer wasn’t great for many downtown businesses. Things may get worse as discretionary income drops and potential visitors try “staycations.” Yet some of these businesses have developed national markets, and even beyond, using the internet. And the rest of us can help with a concerted effort to “Shop Downtown Lexington” (or BV, as the case may be).

So while we have our vulnerabilities, we also find some strengths:

* A stable and somewhat recession-proof economy.

* A renewed emphasis on “shopping local” and “eating local.”

* Well-managed governments in each jurisdiction.

* A reinvigorated commitment to our downtown areas, both Lexington and Buena Vista. Think, for example, of the projects underway in Lexington at the old bank building and, soon, the old courthouse, and the interest in Lot One, and the new businesses in BV.

* Our four higher educational entities. They not only provide a steady stream of students-many who become devoted to our area-but also the intellectual resources that, if tapped and coordinated even more fully, can spur even greater creativity. Moreover, especially with SVU’s increasing strength and Dabney’s sparkling new facility, along with what I believe are strong school systems (again with kudos to their leadership), we can develop a world-class workforce.

* And, as always, a profound commitment on the part of our people to the unique way of life which we enjoy. I have always admired how citizens here treasure our natural and historic heritage, while also bringing to bear modern technologies but always in ways consistent with our ethos.

In other words, out of our strengths come possibilities for our future.

Yes, we have an economic storm to weather. But because of our abiding strengths, we not only can survive, we can also chart the course for an even greater future.

First, though, confronting the storm: Next week, some ideas on how to make it through.

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