Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Palm Coast and Olympic Dreams"

Sam Vazquez, Olympic Hopeful,
Palm Coast, FL

   The crazy thing about dreams is that most of us never have the kind that take on a life of their own.  The "really big, heart thumping, adrenalin pumping, hyperventilation-inducing" kind that wake you up in the night in a cold sweat.  Too risky!  And if we do, we are reluctant to tell anyone, because then we're forced to either act... or look silly when we fail.  Like, how many people do you know personally, who have said, "I'm going to be an Olympic athlete!?"  Well, I did the math, and guess what?  If you are one of the 353,000,000 Americans on the planet, your chances of going, are one ten-thousandth of a %!  Yet there is one such individual in Palm Coast today, who says that is just what he is going to do...

If you've been in Palm Coast, FL for a while, you may know or remember  Sam Vazquez, Flagler Palm Coast High School, Class of 2003.  While a senior at FPC, Sam ran the Adidas High School Nationals Track Meet mile in 4:03!  Oh, so close to breaking the 4 minute barrier.  His time was the fastest prep mile time in the entire country that year (and faster than any college runner in Florida).  That made him a National Champion!  Since Jim Ryun broke 4 minutes in high school in 1964, only four others have done it (Marty Liquori, Tim Danielson, Alan Webb, and Lukas Verzbicas).  That, along with his 6 individual Florida State Championship titles in various 800m, 1500m, mile, and relay events, put him in some very rarefied air.  So much so, that he was recruited by legendary track coach, John McDonnel at the University of Arkansas... on a full-ride athletic scholarship in 2003.  That's the same John McDonnel who coached 42 NCAA National Champions and 23 Olympians.  More than any other track coach in history, by a wide margin.

The Good... and the Bad
happened here...
But here is where the story takes one of those turns that are hard to swallow.  One of those that has people ask, "How could he have messed that up so bad?"  I'm guessing that those people may have forgotten what it might be like to be 19, on your own for the first time, away from home, and living under the spotlight.  Now, to be sure, he ran fast and was on a National Championship middle distance relay team.  He earned his "NCAA All-American" status as a Freshman.  But that's where it all ended, as he - like so many before him - neglected to open his books.  At year's end, he was academically ineligible and sent packing...

Sam came back home to Palm Coast - his dream shattered - and experienced a letdown of major proportions.  He stopped running and went through a series of small, meaningless jobs.  He sat around, played video games, and pondered his future.  Now I'm lucky enough to be married to his Mom, and proud to be his step-Dad.  To save space, let's just say that three things happened to align Sam's stars and planets, to re-spark his Olympic Dream:

  • His Mom stayed vigilant and continued to remind him that dreams don't die, unless you let them.
  • He met Florencia - also a Flagler Palm Coast HS grad, and now his wife - who would have none of this "sitting around" stuff.
  • He hooked back up with his high school coach, Peter Hopfe - now the assistant track coach at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
Good Stuff happened here...
Florencia Silva Vazquez
Long story short, both he and Florencia applied for and received athletic scholarship assistance at ERAU.  They both ran fast and this time, thanks to Flo's relentless - let's call it  "encouragement," Sam became a terrific student as well.  They won races and athletic honors and both graduated with management degrees this past year.  Sam was a 7 time NAIA All-American in track and cross country and the 2011 NAIA Champion in the 1000m event at Nationals.  Upon graduation, Flo scored a terrific job at United Airlines Headquarters, and they moved to Chicago.

Now here's where things heat up again.  Sam has devoted himself to making the Olympic qualifying standard in the 800m and/or the 1500m events, and hopes to represent the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in London this coming summer.  He is staying with us now, here in Palm Coast, and has tackled a grizzly bear of a goal.  He has competed recently in the Central American & Caribbean Games in Mayaguez and also the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, as well as the American Miler Series in Indianapolis.  At an indoor meet in Arkansas last week, Sam ran into his old coach, John McDonnel (now retired to a cattle ranch in Oklahoma).  The old man recognized him, even though it had been over seven years since they parted ways.  "Vazquez!?" "I remember you... You had more potential than anyone."  Ouch!  Sam said it was such an honor to hear that... and also a spear through his heart.  But no time to lament over "what might have been"... Time to focus on the "here and now"... On the "what will be!"
Just this week, as an un-attached runner, he went back to his ERAU alma mater and broke his old school record in the mile.  Take that! 

Palm Coast, FL has reason to be proud of Sam and he is representing us well.  He is hungry, focused, and training hard.  He's doing what many of us wish we could do - he's living his dream.  He knows how difficult it will be to make this happen.  He also knows that win, lose, or draw, he's giving it all he has.  If you would be able to help support Sam's efforts, he would be very grateful for your donation, which will help defray his training, competing, living, and travel costs.  To help Sam chase his Olympic Dream, please visit:
Train Hard, Alex (Sam)!
We are with you all the way!

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Flagler County, Florida - Spotlight on Agriculture"

Farmers, Growers, and Cowboys Rule!
   When I was a kid, I spent summers on my aunt and uncle's Pennsylvania farm.  South side of the road was a dairy operation and the North side was for raising turkeys and growing fruits and vegetables.  The experience helped me later get a job as a hired hand on a large, commercial dairy farm, where we were blessed with a large herd of Brown Swiss cows, noted for their prodigious production of high protein/high fat milk... a cheese maker's dream!

 Clegg's Sod Farm
Uncle Joe, all 140 lbs. of him, would take a 100 lb. milk can in each hand and run up the steep grade from the barn like it was nothing, to put the milk out for pickup from the local dairy.  My cousins and I were in awe.  And to this day, I still brag that Aunt Mary's cooking was blessed by God, Himself.  Who knew, like Uncle Joe schooled me, that cows gave more milk if you put the radio on a station they liked.  His cows, it seems, liked polka music.  The fact that Joe and Mary were immigrants from Slovenia, more than likely influenced the choice, as well.  Those farm memories are so good and so strong.  My wife, who hails from Brooklyn, thinks I'm a little nuts, when I say, "Man, I love the smell of a barn!"

This week, as a member of the Flagler County "Economic Opportunity Advisory Council" (EOAC), I was blessed with an opportunity to visit some of Flagler County's agricultural operations.  Once again, I was reminded of the fact that the men and women who run these farm oriented businesses, possess a breadth and depth of knowledge, beyond what is imagined, as we pick up our meat, dairy, and produce, in the comfort and convenience of the local grocery store.
Hollar & Greene Produce Co.

Matt Seay's Potatoes

Most Palm Coasters are probably unfamiliar with what lies out Routes 100, 11, 13, 304, 305, 1422...  and the hundreds of gravel roads West of town, but it's a lot.  Meeting with David Clegg, Chuck Cowart, Dwayne Weeks, Matt Seay, and T.J. Bratcher, let me know that our Ag- Business is in good hands.  I loved it when Chuck Cowart, self-described cracker cowboy, quipped that he "knew more about the Stock Market than anybody on Wall Street."  Of course he was referring to his business dealings of buying and selling beef cattle to the "stock markets," at the optimum time, for the best profit margin.

T.J. Bratcher's Produce Store
From an Economic Development standpoint, Flagler's Ag-Business is a huge part of the mix.  Florida is 9th in the nation in total agriculture, with over $100 Billion pumped into the annual state GDP.  We are 10th overall in beef cattle and #1 for herds over 500 head in the US.  In Flagler County, Ag is the #1 employer (with over 1,120 jobs), #2 in output ($306.4M), and #2 in export goods ($133M).

We finished off our tour with a stop at Bratcher Farms Produce Store, on West Rt. 100, and loaded up with goodies.  I took home some sweet onions, eggplant, mushrooms, peach jam, and the walnut syrup that will go on this Sunday morning's french toast.  Can't wait!

Friday, February 10, 2012

"25 BILLION Dollar Housing Handout?"

$25,000,000,000 Handout

As I was paying my mortgage online this week...
for the house I bought in 2006... which now has a market value of about 50% less than I paid for it... while my income as a Real Estate Broker has been significantly eroded...

I heard a news report in the background that My Uncle Sam in Washington, was going to help folks out with a $25,000,000,000
(yes, those nine zeros take us into the Billions) handout, to help rub salve on the pain and suffering of those aggrieved by the crumby housing market.  See, what we're gonna do, is give $2,000 to those who lost a home (especially if a robot signed the foreclosure papers)... and subsidize others in a bad situation to re-finance!  And the neat thing about it is that those of us who have been hammered hard, albeit "2 strokes shy of dead," will pay for it!  How cool is that!

But, wait, who says they have been hurt more than me... or that maybe I dug deeper to avoid a foreclosure, or at least a "short sale" attempt?  You see the reason I'm not quite upside down - yet -
is because I put a huge chunk of what I used to have into my down payment... and now it's all gone!

I sit back and am truly mystified by this government intervention.  Don't they get that this will only slow down the rebound of the housing market, by messing with the market dynamic?  If someone has missed 4 or 5 mortgage payments and the government says, "Here's a no-cost re-finance for you."  What are the chances that that person will default again within a year?  Hint:  80%!  The truth is that reducing a payment by $100-$200/month is not enough for someone in a real financial jam.  So, the result is an 80% chance of another foreclosure, just delayed for a year, keeping the bottom from being cleaned out.

The crux of the problem is the 450,000 Florida homes in bank “shadow inventory” - those homes in the bank’s control, but not yet for sale.  That’s nearly double the second place State of California, with “only” 225,000!  At normal absorption rates, that’s an additional 2.5 years of distressed property, clogging the system here in Florida.  A look at the Flagler County Realtor Multiple Listing System (MLS) shows that 60% of single family home closings in the past 6.5 months in Palm Coast are already distressed sales (split almost 50/50 between foreclosures and “short sales.”)  It’s hard to watch Palm Coast friends and neighbors go through this, yet the primary action in First Aid is to “stop the bleeding.”  This new government intervention will only prolong the agony.

Why won't the government simply let the market find it's own equilibrium, without intervention?
Hmmm, you don't think that politics and winning votes in the next election has anything to do with it, do you?  Nah, how silly of me to think that way!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Palm Coast Is Now "Jingle Worthy!"

   When I first came to Flagler County, Florida, I didn't even know that Palm Coast existed.  It was 1999 and I was thrust here, by chance, for a family wedding.  The bride and groom lived in Flagler Beach and we stayed at the Topaz Hotel (home of "Blue at the Topaz," my favorite Flagler County eatery)

   I had flown from Virginia to Miami and Ft. Lauderdale for Real Estate conventions and training in the 90's, but had never driven around or gotten a feel for the Atlantic Coast.  I graduated from the University of Tampa in 1973 and had ties to Sarasota and Port Charlotte... I was more of a self-declared "Gulf Coast guy."  The wedding was in St. Augustine, so all we did was drive up and down A1A.  Who knew what goodies ITT and the team of "Ponch and Garfield" had to offer across the bridge?

   Well, unforeseen events moved me here in 2001 - and the first few years were akin to "Real Estate Heaven."  Then 2006 happened and my crystal ball has been in for repair ever since!  How can it be, that someone could buy a 6,500 square foot building lot (not on the ocean) in Hammock Beach, for $580,000 in 2005... and sell it for "what the market would bear" in 2011... for $65,000?!?!?  Ouch!

Getting Back on Track!
   So, here we are in the infancy of 2012.  Are those flickers of hope I see?  Will we really start to come out of this quagmire?  Both Flagler County and Palm Coast have renewed and re-energized "Economic Development" initiatives in the works.  The County has a new "Economic Opportunity Advisory Council" and it's new boss, Helga van Eckert, will be on board later this month.  I'm blessed to be a member of this council and we all feel a real responsibility to take decisive action to bring jobs and revenue to Flagler County.  Palm Coast is also doing the same.  See what's going on at:
   Recent political debates and discussions across the country tell us of the burning issue on people's minds, as we struggle to get going again and hear Bill Clinton whispering, "It's the economy, stupid."

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