Pike County Dispatch , Thursday March 21, 2013
The economy is stuck in Pike County. Parking lots at Lowe’s Home Depot and Luhr’s sit empty because builders are not throwing up new houses. The county’s’ unemployment rate hovers around 11 percent, among the highest in the state. Now comes word that the population of Pike, long one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S. , dropped by about 700 over the past two years. Gone are the days when urban refugees in the aftermath of 9-11 spiked the local economy. Not only did they seek to settle here and build new houses, but they also increased the demand for sophisticated products and services and brought entrepreneurial and professional skills that altogether boosted our economy. But those shots of adrenalin have long since worn off.
Besides, in the aftermath of 9-11, financial wizards, seeking to get a shocked economy moving again, loosened up the credit supply, which was partly responsible for the real estate boom and bust here and elsewhere. That too has evaporated. Mortgage rates are at a long-term low, but qualifying is much harder, and many homeowners’ are underwater on their existing mortgages. One regional real estate broker says what growth there is stems from local people buying first homes, not from potential exurbanites, who can’t unload their existing homes for the asking price. Another trend identified in the new regional demographic in that people are increasingly less willing to endure long commutes to get to work. They want jobs here, not 75 miles from here.
One ray of hope for economic growth is the tax abatement plan proposed by Mike Sullivan, Director of the Pike County Economic Development Authority. In an effort to create more local jobs, the EDA offers a tax abatement plan for new construction or improvements of property in designated commercial areas. The problem with this concept is in getting three school districts, 13 municipalities and the county itself-all separate taxing authorities- to work together to make the five-year abatement profitable for investors. Overregulation, a militant conservation ethic and an entrenched NIMBY ( not in my backyard) attitude all militate against business development in Pike beyond its mainstay of tourism, but when entrenched interest begin realizing the impacts of shrinking school enrollments and a dwindling work force, hopefully change will come.