Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

The South is Hurting Too
by James Glaser
May 22, 2009

We hear about how bad things are in Michigan, especially Detroit, but the South is hurting, too. Yesterday, I bought the local paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, and it felt thicker than usual. I was thinking extra Memorial Day ads, but that wasn't it. There were two extra sections, and the headline on the first page was, "Leon County Delinquent Tax List And Notice Of Tax Certificate Sale."

These two sections had nine columns on each page, and the print was so small I used a magnifying glass to read it. In the average column there were 35 names, a short description of location, a tax number, and the amount owed. With a total of 30 pages, that works out to over 9,000 land owners in Leon County, where the Capital City of Tallahassee is located, that owe back taxes.

I don't know what the total owed to the county is, but you can bet it cost many thousands of dollars just to publish that list.

As you drive around Tallahassee today, you see all sorts of For Rent or For Lease signs on commercial property. I don't think there is even a strip mall that doesn't have at least one empty store front, and there are empty offices all over town.

However, there is one section of the commercial real estate business that is booming, and that is the banking industry. There are banks being built all over Tallahassee, and new banks opening up in store fronts with names you have never heard before. I guess the TARP money has started to trickle down.

I can't think of a street that doesn't have at least one For Sale sign on it, and many have a bunch. There are houses in nice neighborhoods that have been on the market for two years now, and the prices are really just a fraction of what they started out at.

I have been looking for a house to buy and I don't know if it is just luck of the draw or what, but we have yet to look at a house that somebody is actually living in. There are a whole lot of empty houses out there. Leon county has thousands of foreclosures, and thousands more that are "short sales."

Those foreclosures and short sales are all across North Florida, and if you are trying to sell your home, you are competing with a lot of people who are forced to make two house payments, because they moved for a new job but can't sell their old home. That means they might even take a loss just to get out from under that other mortgage. That also means you had better be willing to deal on yours if you want to sell.

Here is another telling sign of how things are going. If you are like me, you like tools, and used construction tools are cheap today. Pawn shops are full, and Craig's List has new tools posted every day. Carpenters have few jobs today, and the same is true with every trade. I hired an electrician to hang some lights for me, and just a few months ago he had eight electricians working for him. He said he was happy just to get the half day I hired him for.

I have met people from out of state that have come down here looking for work, only to find there is none. It is starting to look a bit like the old movies about the 1930's.

Wanda and I are looking for a piece of land out in the country, and I can tell you that a big vegetable garden will be my first project. I'm not thinking survivalist here, I am just talking about being prudent

So, times are tough here in the South, and I am sure they are now or are getting that way every where else in the country, except if you happen to be in the banking industry. Our elected officials in Washington really have no idea of the plight we are in as a nation. They all still have the big pay check, and the best health care we can buy them. In Washington, you and I are out of sight and out of mind, and I think they like it that way.

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