All is well? Not really

“All is well?” To the most popular greeting of the day the honest answer could be: “Well, not really”. In terms of real estate, 2012 was very similar to 2011 which was not a banner year. Demand is still sluggish and investor confidence is not strong yet although possibly improving. The very end of 2012 was quite active and it will be interesting to see if this carries over into 2013. (See all the statistics and specifics in our new Coldwell Banker Market Report just released and on our website www.coldwellbankercayman.com). Instead of record sales or improving values, last years top stories involved auctions, increasing crime, alleged corruption, a deposed premier, continuing deficits and a potential balance sheet “fix” involving direct taxation. Even if you can usually manage to have a “glass half-full” mentality, that is a bitter mixture to swallow. 

But having said that, and not expecting us to be able to completely buck global economic trends, Cayman still has a lot going for itself; especially relative to the difficulties in the “big island” to the North from whence our biggest influx of visitors comes. Our problems have always seemed more “fixable” here and it appears there may now be real opportunity for that with more and more new and qualified candidates willing to serve in the LA. Our marketplace is small enough to continue to tick over even in the face of lower demand. And we continue to be attractive both to those who want to move assets here and those who just want to enjoy being here. 

But there are some areas where we just cannot afford significant missteps. The first is crime which is always a bigger problem when economies slow down. I worked for Mr. Jim Bodden when I first came to Cayman and when our workdays were over at about 8.30pm I would stop by the old George Town Trust Building to give him an update on sales and ask him whatever questions I had. Often the talk got to politics or what was happening in Cayman. I recall telling him we could eliminate the tourism budget completely as long as he made sure we had no crime in Cayman because eventually we would be the only crime free option in the Caribbean. I still feel that way. Strides made late last year in this regard need to be continued and reinforced. This is not a matter of doing something once or twice. This is a long-term problem that requires long term and holistic solutions. 

Another is immigration, which affects the work forces and productivity of all businesses and investments. Inconsistency in any arena is counter-productive to attracting business. Businesses need to know how to budget for the costs of doing business here. And those costs have to be both sensible and consistent. Strides have recently been made in this area but there are still significant problems. Obviously,
more and better jobs for Caymanians is a major issue which needs to be
addressed, but there are others. For example, about 1,800 workers are still scheduled to be rolled over on a single day this coming October if something is not done. What a mess that would be. Sounds like plenty of time to sort it out? Well, practically speaking this probably has to be done before May. If not, we then have an election, a new government, and all new boards to organise before any new legislation could be drafted and finally acted upon. 

Inextricably connected, however, to both crime and immigration is education. Limiting the need for foreign workers is a worthwhile goal, but this must be done without adversely effecting the productivity of local businesses and thereby making the Cayman Islands less competitive in the international marketplace. We need to ensure proper training is available to our local workforce, and not just for white collar jobs. This means good trade schools both for training and re-training our populace. Some good programmes in this regard have been proposed but have never seen the light of day due to political partisanship. That must no longer be allowed to happen. There is no short-term solution. Education requires long-term planning and investment beyond the scope of one term of office and a holistic approach is the only way to achieve this. The answer is not to lower our standards to allow us to hire more local labour, the answer is to improve the abilities of our local labour force to allow them to qualify for better jobs and perform them at a high standard.  

However, the real underlying problem in Cayman – and worldwide in my view – is the disappearance of basic Christian values in our lives. Whatever happened to treating people with fairness and courtesy? Now instead of avoiding behaviour that just doesn’t seem right, we turn to lawyers to ask whether or not it’s legal. And if each of us were to take more pride in our own work, instead of coveting our neighbours, it would work out better for all concerned. In today’s world we are now so intent on improving the bottom line at all costs, that we often end up destroying the ingredients which ensured our success in the first place. 

It is not that financial gain was never a strong motivation in our lives before. It always has been. But now it seems to be the only thing that matters. To use a sports analogy, when we subscribe to the belief that “winning is everything”, we lose the joy of camaraderie, the pride of taking part, appreciating personal improvement and the excitement of competition which were foundations upon which sport was created in the first place. 

The real estate market will take care of itself, subject to the natural cycles of supply and demand, if the government will make sure that issues like the ones mentioned first above are properly addressed. But more importantly, it is up to each of us to live our lives according to the Golden Rule and I don’t mean “He who has the gold makes the rules”. I mean: “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” Neither the real estate market nor any local business will prosper in the long run if we 
do not. 

The very end of 2012 was quite active and it will be interesting to see if this carries over into 2013. 

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