First Swallows Of Our Economic Spring Offer Hope Of Thaw
Written by Michael Lewis on May 7, 2009
By Michael Lewis
Despite headlines proclaiming "Dow’s Gain Is Its 7th In 8 Weeks" and "Less Gloom For Suppliers, Consumers," the economic freeze still chills, with gloom and doom aplenty. But local reports of the past week blow very welcome warming breezes.
While in Aristotelian logic a handful of swallows flying in does not a summer make, in the Miami business community a handful of businesses marching forward may not overheat things but at least offers hope of a thaw.
So when a department store chain announces it’s adding two Miami-Dade sites, a reputable entrepreneur sets a timetable to build a big-box shopping complex near downtown, the man behind an awaited mega-yacht marina says he’ll begin work this summer and developers gain city OK for mixed-use towers, the four not only signal their building confidence but give a shot in the arm to everyone else.
If nothing more, these evidences of faith will get others to consider moving ahead, ending hibernation and adding business rather than maintaining the slash-and-wait mentality that has pervaded the region, the nation and the globe.
That inertia borne of fear has the most tangible of causes. But when each of us holds back on personal and business spending and cuts rather than adding for growth, the fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
While the excessive exuberance that led to the bust is unlikely to be replayed soon, a bit of optimism is vital to heat up the stone-cold engines of commerce and economy.
So hail to Nordstrom for planning two new Nordstrom Rack outlets here — and note that these discount operations fit well with our new-found willingness, spawned by necessity, to economize. Excess will not be these stores’ middle names.
Hail also to Ignacio Garcia Du-Quesne, whose Bayview Market will feature a 135,000-square-foot Lowe’s, another entry into the more-practical and less-lofty segment of retailing that will anchor a better-grounded business model.
Planning is surely cautious for the hotel-retail-residential complex at 1700 Biscayne Blvd., just a stone’s throw from Bayview Market at 17th and Northeast Second Avenue: developers don’t expect to build until credit and real estate markets open up and the flood of vacant condos abates.
Even the luxury mega-yacht marina on Watson Island has a practical bent. Developer Flagstone Property Group plans to start only the marina, the sole segment of the project for which need is clear today. Two hotels, residences and high-end retail are to wait — undoubtedly, until true demand builds in those sectors as well.
Indeed, start dates for all four remain months distant. They aren’t due to become a quick private stimulus effort.
But all four are surely symbolic. None relies on a federal package. All are private enterprise. None is billed as a way to create jobs at any cost.
Most important, all are based solely on a profit motive. Altruism plays no role, nor does bailout. And none is being undertaken with a federal gun at the head.
These are business folks putting their money where their mouths are. And that is the ultimate requirement to escape a recession’s depths.
Despite last week’s headlines like "Global Stock Rally Is Strongest Since 1991" and "Hopeful Signs Seen in GDP Fall," this recession is far from over. More bad news is surely ahead — probably soon.
So I don’t mean to make more of this batch of hopeful signs than it is — it’s just four individual swallows taking flight. It’s not the end of an economic ice age. Construction and real estate and tourism and consumer spending and the financial system will not snap back overnight.
But without the first swallows, here and everywhere, there can be no economic springtime, and no spring in our leaden footsteps.
I for one am heartened to see them fly in.