EDITOR’S NOTE: Log Editor William Hatfield is a member of this year’s Destin Forward class. He will be filing stories monthly chronicling his experiences in the Chamber of Commerce’s leadership program.
I have been the editor of this twice-weekly newspaper since 2007. As part of the job description, I live, breathe, drive, walk, eat and drink Destin — daily.
I’ve seen plenty of good, balanced out by plenty of bad, with an occasional side of ugly. So I was slightly skeptical when presented with the opportunity to join Destin Forward, the Chamber of Commerce’s annual leadership program.
It’s not that I think a deep dive into Destin’s issues, politics and heritage is a bad idea. I just figured I had already taken that class and gotten an A or an F, depending on which reader or non-reader you ask.
The early part of my first couple days of class seemed to bear that out, especially when this class of 13 professionals embarked on the white collar SWOT exercise of analyzing the city’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
You’d think that when you take an attorney, a newspaper editor, financial adviser and a couple of accountants and put them in a room with a few hospitality industry reps, a chamber employee, a city of Destin employee, a small business owner and a not-for-profit director, you’d get a whole lot of diverging opinions. But when it comes to Destin, you don’t.
Everyone knows that this city’s greatest strength is something we are almost all guilty of taking advantage of: We live and work in a paradise that people dream all year about, then visit for only a short period of time.
The weaknesses are also as clear as our crystal water: traffic, water quality, overdevelopment, an infrastructure that hasn’t kept pace with explosive growth.
The opportunities gleam on the horizon even though Destin’s destiny may already be cast: a diversified economy that still respects our fishing heritage and an efficient mass transportation system in and around the city.
The threats, meanwhile, seem to pit man versus nature: hurricanes, beach erosion, even the lingering impacts from environmental catastrophes such as that of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
We all presented roughly the same assessment of where Destin was and where it could be. It wasn’t until we began tackling how we get there that the paths began to diverge.
The class pondered how to better position the city in the next five years as a desired community for locals and a world-class resort area for vacationers. We then designed The Destin Log of tomorrow and predicted the headlines for Destin 10 years in the future. I admit I may have had a slight advantage in this exercise.
Peering at those headlines from 2023, I can assure you that the future of Destin is quite bright — from being designated a historic working waterfront to achieving a diversified economy by landing a Google satellite office. A streetcar was even rolling down Highway 98, no doubt bringing spectators to the America’s Cup yacht races taking place on the bay. Of course, the REALLY big news was the fact that the Destin High Barracudas took down the FWB Vikings during homecoming.
The exercise put a positive spin on the many challenges that face our city. From an overburdened infrastructure to an economy addicted to tourism, those obstacles often seem to loom larger than the tallest condo in Destin.
But Chamber President and CEO Shane Moody challenged the group to come up with “aggressive/progressive solutions” to what he called “the city’s most pressing problems.”
And there lies the power of Destin Forward. We all know what makes this city great. We all know what holds it back. But how do we untie the Gordian knot of a city that must serve its locals while banking on its tourists? How do you get beyond the analysis paralysis and move forward? Those are the questions I hope to answer in Destin Forward. I hope you’ll join me each month for the journey.
William Hatfield is editor of The Destin Log and a member of the 2013-14 Destin Forward Class. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT IS DESTIN FORWARD?
Destin Forward is the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce’s leadership program that gives participants a “behind the scenes” look at the city of Destin through various programs and educational opportunities. To learn more about the annual program, visit www.destinchamber.com or call 850-837-2711.