Shannon's Window: Missing the mark among 'best performing cities

  • January 22, 2016
  • /   Shannon Nickinson
  • /   community-dashboard

This is a list Pensacola should be on.

“2015 Best Performing Cities: Where America’s Jobs are Created and Sustained” was produced in December by the Milken Institute. The Miami Herald wrote about the list, as well as a Bloomberg analysis that shows Florida is lagging when it comes to cities that nurture and support innovation.

But the Florida city with the best showing on the Best Performing Cities 2015 report — The Villages, the community near Orlando that is a haven for retirees.

Pensacola doesn’t crack the top 200 among small cities.

So whatever we’re doing, we need to think harder, Homer.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, The Villages metro area was the fastest growing metro in the country, with 4.5 percent population growth in the 12-month period that ended July 2014.

The oil-and-natural-gas-boom areas of Louisiana are well-represented on the list. College towns, like Burlington, Vt.; College Station, Texas; Auburn, Ala.; Champaign-Urbana, Ill.,; State College, Pa.; and Morgantown, W.Va. make a good showing.

Morgantown — a place where lighting couches on fire after a Mountaineers' win is a big Saturday night.

Rust Belt cities reinventing themselves like Weirton, W.Va., East Stroudsburg, Pa., and Binghamton, N.Y., are on the list.

Crestview-Fort-Walton-Destin rolls in at 62 on the list, down from 40th in 2014.  Panama City is on the rise, showing up at 109 this year up from 164 in 2014.  

That’s as close as the Best Performing Cities get to us.

The new home of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition is growing daily, coming to life a stone’s throw from historic St. Michael’s Cemetery.

One Palafox Place is about to become home to a cool co-working space with the Cowork Annex. EntreCon brought hundreds of people together to be energized by the spirit of starting or building their own business.

Pensacola Beach gets kudos from vacation mags and travel writers. Our downtown is more vibrant than it’s been in years.

So why is Pensacola stuck in second gear?

The percentage of population growth The Villages had in one year it took us five years to achieve.

We are a one step up and two steps back town.

Our high school graduation rate has risen more than 6 percentage points, but every year, about 1,000 of our 5-year-olds show up for kindergarten without the basic skills they’ll need to learn and grow properly.

Our real per capita income, the best measure according the experts at the University of West florida’s Haas Center for Business Research and Economic development, has climbed to $38,389 a year — but it remains more than $4,000 off the state figure.

Nearly 8,200 children under 5 live in neighborhoods where poverty among families ranks at 10 percent or more.

If we want to serve those children well they need the same chance at a future as their peers from the more well-off sides of town.

If we want those children to grow into adults who will hold jobs, pay taxes and give back to their community, we have two choices.

We can invest in them now and help them and their parents get the tools they need to be ready for school.

Or we can pay for what happens when we don’t. Through crime rates that rise while elsewhere in the state they decrease. Through a workforce that is not prepared for the jobs that are here — let alone the jobs that pass us by for better educated, more skilled citizens.

Otherwise we can just keep dancing in circles.