By Jill Gaupin | Photo by Marla Carter
What can I say? I have little tolerance for complaining and no tolerance for negativity. I also happen to adore my adopted home of South Walton. Not only are we surrounded by stunning natural beauty that takes one’s breath away, but also, the people who make up this fine community are some of the most passionate and contented folk I have ever met. With the exception of a few nasty hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005, life had been moving along blissfully in our slice of paradise until 2006, when the astronomical run-up in real estate pricing came to a screeching halt. Seemingly overnight, the collective conversation morphed from an ode to the charming life in South Walton to a tirade of complaint and negativity.
The inevitable market correction has had a crippling effect on the local economy that absolutely cannot be denied. Yet when we were down, I was amazed at how many were taking the opportunity to bash the integrity and reputation of South Walton. Ours is a real estate- and tourist-driven area, so non-locals and locals alike seemed to be losing faith in South Walton because of the real estate meltdown. What struck me the most in online, printed, and person-to-person conversation was how myopic and reactionary the perspective had suddenly become. Incredibly frustrated, but knowing that it is possible for just one person to initiate positive change, I decided something had to be done to put a positive spin back into the dialogue. So at the end of 2007, I launched a blog called SoWal Scene (www.sowalscene.com).
My core mission with SoWal Scene is to provide the local community with a much-needed blast of optimism--and with a place for people to find reassurance that conditions aren’t as bad as the local chatter might lead one to believe. I live here, so I know the realities of life in South Walton. And what do I know? Our beaches are as beautiful as ever. New businesses, large and small, continue to open all around South Walton. The community, already populated with dynamic and creative individuals, grows as more and more people choose to make this their permanent home. Rental occupancy has consistently grown from year to year, thanks to the marketing efforts of the new urban and other resort communities and the Tourist Development Council. Our schools are starting to rank as some of the best in the state. Our state and local taxes are among the lowest in the country. The state owns approximately 40 percent of the land in South Walton, providing a haven for nature lovers and the eco-conscious as well as all kinds of wildlife and endangered species; and will also act as a buffer against over-development. And the real estate market is offering up some great buying opportunities for those who want to live here. All is well.
My greatest challenge with SoWal Scene is trying to communicate the positive without sounding like I am naïve and out-of-touch. I know that many people are struggling financially at the moment. Some good people made some bad decisions and have been caught up in the real estate frenzy. Many locals are employed in the real estate and development sectors, which have been hit hard by the downturn. But as history has shown, what goes up must come down, and vice versa. Our current economic difficulties are no exception, but we will persevere. Not only will we persevere, but also we will continue to evolve into a world-class destination.
In the meantime, I want my readers to know that I will be online, acting as a steward and an anchor of all things positive, celebrating the people and the land of what I think is the most beautiful place in the world--South Walton County.
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Jill Gaupin has lived in Point Washington since 2002. In addition to starting SoWal Scene, Ms. Gaupin is in the process of launching an online stock photo business for the Emerald Coast and an online graphic design web business for the yoga industry.