I know, 2009 was a year you probably wanted to push out the door, sort of like holiday guests that wear out their welcome. We kinda felt the same way.
However, as we were putting together this first issue of the new year, we at Ocala Style wanted to look ahead to what our local leaders need to do to get Ocala and Marion County back on track. Yes, an awful lot of work needs to be done.
We’re at record unemployment, our housing industry is in the slump of all slumps, and our standing as “The Horse Capital of the World” is losing some luster (more on that next month). Yes, 2010 will be 12 months of sleeve-rolling and pencil-sharpening and Ocala Style wanted to get the discussion going in a big way by hosting an economic forum with a roomful of locals in a position to make things happen (see the story on page 60).
I’m proud to say that these very busy people put aside their BlackBerrys and shared their ideas with us. But before you read about what the group had to say, I wanted to give you a little insight on who they are.
I’ve known Jaye Baillie for a long time and respected her position with the Public Education Foundation of Marion County long before she assumed her current role as president and CEO of the chamber. Jaye is passionate about many things, but Ocala is at the top of that list. From downtown redevelopment to local arts groups, she’s a tireless advocate for her hometown.
We did a surfing feature on Pete Tesch many years ago and for some reason I always picture him catching a wave somewhere. Like Jaye, Pete’s also a fixture with an organization—in his case, the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corporation. He recently celebrated 20 years at its helm and vigorously works to attract jobs to this area. Although the city council questioned the very need for an EDC a few years ago, I think we all know the answer to that now. Probably more than ever.
As a CFCC alum, I always have something to discuss with president Charles “Chick” Dassance at one of Ocala’s many functions we both attend. I’ve always enjoyed our conversations because Chick, like me, stays current with good films, but his passion for the college always comes to the surface. The respect he’s earned from the teachers and staff at the newly named College of Central Florida speaks volumes. Little things, like the small bonus he gave to instructors at the end of 2009 for dealing with a 40-percent attendance increase over several years with no raise in pay says much about his character.
Speaking of character, Kurt Kelly has plenty to spare. Before his current role in Tallahassee as our state representative, he was a clear and ethical voice in a sometimes-contentious school board. Like his ever-present green tie, you always know Kurt’s position on issues, even if you disagree with them. You can’t help but think we’re in good hands when Kurt stands up for Marion County.
Our new city and county leaders—Ricky Horst and Lee Niblock, respectively—aren’t as familiar to me, but that’ll change. They’ve rolled up their sleeves, tackled some difficult changes within their departments, and started talking together, something long-needed in their roles. I’d say they’re off to a good start. Add in Martha Barnwell and Pat Reddish from the EDC board, and you’ll see we had a great group.
One with its heart in the right place.
All my best,
The Ocala Style Top 10 with Dean Blinkhorn, the first Friday of each month at 8am on BIG 92.9 with Bill Barr.
Upcoming shows: January 8 and February 5.