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Staff Editorials

Sell this county like a used car salesman

A national newspaper recently expressed a sentiment that the average family is facing an economic crisis while politicians in Washington face a big election year. The two paths aren’t in danger of colliding. In other words, the federal government isn’t likely to do much to help the economy until politicians get through fighting for the White House.

So here we sit in Pickens County with enough empty commercial space to shelter the Mongol hordes and no plans or prospects to spur new business.

The editor of this paper has asked people over the past month if they see any bright spot on the horizon, anything that might give us a bump with jobs or new businesses?

The answer was a simple no. In fact, no one had any complicated answer that didn’t come back to plain no.

Things are bad economically across the whole nation. It might even be worse here actually, because for the past decade all our economic eggs were in the homebuilding basket, and that sector has been hardest hit.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what started the problem, though numerous opinions abound:  Loss of manufacturing; High fuel prices; Burdensome environmental regs; Healthcare costs; Cheaper labor overseas; Out-of-control mortgage lending to unqualified homebuyers; FDIC policies that stymie local banks. The list could go on forever.

We didn’t arrive at this recession/possible double-dip recession (whatever that means) overnight or over one administration or over a decade. And it is certainly not going to correct itself any time soon.

The local school superintendent cautioned his board last month that state officials believe we haven’t even bottomed out yet. Ugh. It’s hard to think it could get worse, but some fairly astute business people here also offer that opinion.

Nationally it’s frustrating to realize nothing good is likely to happen with the economy for the foreseeable future, and not much will even be tried until after the 2012 presidential election.

Locally, while it’s hard to be optimistic, at least there are measures that can be taken. Doing something, even if it doesn’t pan out, is better than sitting around doing nothing.

The first thing we’d like to see for Pickens County is more cooperation between the county, the mayors of towns here, the economic developer, different development authorities and the Chamber of Commerce.

This county has always been hesitant to offer incentives or salesmanship to attract new businesses here.

In the past, the economic plan has mostly been “We’re hot. Retirees love us, and businesses will follow. No need to make special offers.” But times have changed. Our old thinking needs to reverse.

Consider how much incentive you would like to see offered to a company that could employ ten people, 20 people or 50 people here?

We’d be in favor of offering whatever the county has in terms of immediate property taxes, and certainly, at this stage, we could forego some tap-on and inspection fees to see new businesses open. We’d encourage our economic developer to go even further and come up with a package of other tangible incentives. Great views and small town atmosphere aren’t enough to beat out other counties also seeking to attract what few businesses might expand. We need leaders thinking way outdoors of the box when putting together incentive packages.

The problem is not recouping later whatever we give away now. Surely, within reason, any help extended is economically less-damaging than the ongoing cost of empty commercial space. The cost of empty storefronts includes indirect losses from missed paychecks, missed payments, foreclosures, reduced retail shopping and all the associated tax revenue.

The problem is we may be too little and way too late with this. Other counties have relied heavily on special deals and perks to attract businesses for years. They know the game. We’re already behind in this wheeling and dealing.

Put simply, we’d like to see our development folks sell Pickens County like a used-car salesman – What can I do to make a deal today?

 

 

World population to hit 7 billion

According to the United Nations, the world’s population should hit 7 billion on Halloween (Oct. 31).

In an article in Science, experts are quick to warn they offer best-guess scenarios concerning future population. The further into the future you go, the “cloudier” projections become.

Given our current rate of growth, the world adds about a billion people every 12 to 13 years. That comes from adding 158 people each minute if you calculate birth versus death rates as U.N. folks like to do. This gives us 227,520 more people each day.

While the future population may be hard to project, it’s interesting to see how that growth came. It took 50,000 years of human existence to build a population of 1 billion people. We crossed the 1 billion threshold in the year 1800. From there we were at 1.6 billion by 1900.

Things starting rolling more quickly at that point. We turned that 1.6 billion number around in the next 100 years. By 2000, world population stood at 6.1 billion.

The most rapid time of population growth, again according to Science, was between 1965 and 1970. Since that time, birthrates have leveled off somewhat. We’re at a point of having more people on the planet, though we aren’t having children nearly as often.

The increase in people comes from both ends of the spectrum. First there are people having babies (no surprise). And improvements in public health are letting our seniors hang around much longer.

But, for considerations of the future, bear in mind that the long-living seniors and the prolific baby producers aren’t usually stationed in the same places. For example: Taiwan has the lowest birthrate of any nation with only .6 births per woman. Correspondingly, developed Asian nations like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan boast longer lifespans.

In the Republic of Niger, the average woman still has 7 children. It might be noted that country ranks as one of the more destitute on the planet. It is currently ranked 167 (out of 169) on the U.N.’s Human Development Index.

Fertility rates are higher in the less developed world. Lifespans are longer in the more developed world. Projections are that with the 7 billion people expected on our planet by the end of October, 5.75 billion will live in less developed nations, 1.25 billion in the developed world.

The three most populated countries will be China (1.35 billion); India (1.25 billion); and the United States (not even close with 312 million).

For the world as a whole, the birthrate has slowed since the 1950s, when the average Earth woman had 5 children. Today’s average woman has  2.5 children. The average U.S. woman has 2 children. China’s birthrate has slowed from an average of six children per woman to three children per woman.

Experts say it doesn’t take much change in world birthrates to have a dramatic impact on population in the years following. In other words, if more nations improve their public health, education and income levels, then their birthrates will fall, and we will see longterm population projections shrink.

A survey conducted by the United Nations found women in Africa still thought that upwards of five children (nine in Nigeria) was a good number to have in their family, while most of the developed world thought two would be a precious plenty.

As some alarmists may fret over the impact a multitude of extra people may exert on the planet, many experts advise to just relax, since the ability to feed everyone is already established. It seems the problem of starvation is ever grounded in issues of food transportation and distribution––nasty things like civil wars and political strife keeping people hungry, not a lack of production.

[Sidenote: Parents are advised to keep the 227,520 figure handy to whip out the next time your child views their incarnation as central to the universe. Casually remind them, “On the day you were born, some 227,519 other kids just like you arrived on this planet. Now exactly what makes you so important?”]

 

What Would Make Pickens a Certifiable Great Place to Live?

For the fourth straight year, we look over paublished lists of the best places to live in America to see how Pickens County stacks up. For three years running, we have consulted the lists of best towns put forward by Money and Outside magazines. This year Outside has yet to do a list, so we worked from Parenting magazine’s list instead.

Money,  in their yearly best places issue, introduced the towns/cities by saying they have “qualities American families care about.”

According to the magazine, those qualities are “great job opportunities, top-notch schools, safe streets, economic strength, nice weather, plenty to do.”

Number one on their list is Louisville, a town of 18,000 in Colorado. Obviously all the Rocky Mountain towns are blessed with plenty to do––skiing, hunting, fishing or just enjoying the wild open spaces.

Along with the opportunities for fun, this town’s proximity to Denver leads to solid job opportunities in a variety of sustainable fields such as aerospace, technology and health care.

Second on Money’s list is Milton, Massachusetts, described as a deep suburb of Boston with a country town feel. Money noted the area’s stable real estate/home prices

Parenting featured larger cities with Washington, D.C. being their first choice. The editors at Parenting gave the nod to Washington for its “plentitude of museums.”

Second on their list was Austin, Texas with its sunny weather. (Do they know how hot  that sunny weather gets in August?) Parenting leaned heavily toward places with cultural attractions and cited the lively farmers’ markets in Austin, plus special events featuring live music and the famous South by Southwest Film Festival.

All of the places making either list had some variation of good jobs supporting great parks/cultural activities in a safe and attractive area with a  small town feel. So how does Pickens stack up?

We own one key element from the bag: public safety. Money wrote that all small towns they listed had safe streets. Pickens can rightfully boast a crime rate to be envied by any community.

We’d also give our schools pretty high marks. They are safe and generally out-perform similar systems academically. Nothing fancy, but certainly solid assets to the community.

Maybe a surprise to some, we’ll give ourselves a “fair” on cultural activities. We lack a single big name attraction but do boast a steady stream of smaller events year-round. The Marble Festival, Heritage Days in Talking Rock, and Tate Days provide nice weekend events. The Tater Patch Players’ new theater, monthly Main Street Manias in Jasper, the first annual ArtFest and regular shows at the Sharptop Arts Center, the Casual Concert Series and new venues like Van Gogh’s Hideaway put us above average compared to other small towns.

Unfortunately, in the two areas where we score low, we pitifully lack some key elements.

Recreation Opportunities. We lack any substantial natural or wilderness area, and our parks and recreation facilities are sub-standard compared to neighboring North Georgia counties. We have argued in this space a number of times that Pickens County can’t create a massive mountain range, sea coast or wilderness area, but we can develop decent recreation facilities. The new gym at Roper Park is a step in the right direction, but one step alone isn’t going to overcome decades of neglect.

Job Growth, Economic Base. Here again, we lack this and badly. Pickens was a company town for too long, and that company was real estate, and that has collapsed. We had no fallback plan. And as far as we can tell, there is no Plan B in the works to create jobs here.

With the economy as stagnant as the Jasper duck pond, it’s doubtful much can be done to shore up our weak areas any time soon. While decent parks could help attract potential homebuyers and businesses, without a stable tax base, it’s hard to justify spending on sports facilities, and we recognize this.

When and if our economy gives the county a little spending cushion, we urge a move to address our lack of recreation venues, in the hope that move could help remedy the economic shortfall here.

To make us a truly great place, one category, parks, is within our control on future SPLOST spending. That other, jobs creation, is the challenge that may plague us for the foreseeable future.

 

The disconnect in health

Janis Kleinberger, the director of Emerging Healthcare, has an enthusiasm when it comes to helping people lead healthier lifestyles. She gets really excited when she talks about programs, classes and work her local non-profit does to combat obesity, stress and poor nutrition.

The problem, as the director confided in a recent meeting with the Progress editor, is the people she wants to help aren’t nearly as excited about her offerings as she is.

Kleinberger was frank in admitting there is a “disconnect” when it comes to reaching the people who could most benefit from what Emerging Healthcare offers.

At the Progress, she was  sounding for advice on how she might encourage more participation in the nutrition classes, fitness programs and other offerings connected through her service. We could not give her much help, though she asked worthy questions: Why don’t people who could benefit from healthier lifestyles take advantage of services that would make their lives both longer and better?

Chronic obesity has become not just a Pickens problem but a nationwide epidemic.

A recent article in the Newnan Times Herald about the state’s SHAPE program noted, “Nationwide, obesity rates tripled for children and doubled for adults over the past three decades. Georgia is among the worst states with 37.3 percent of its children ages 10 to 17 overweight or obese, according to the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health.”

The question is essentially very simple, but perhaps unanswerable: Why don’t people do the things that are good for them? Why don’t we eat better and get some exercise?

It’s surely not a case of ignorance. With all the attention to obesity in media, it’s inconceivable that anyone remains unaware of the dangers of obesity. We have all been told how poor diet and lack of exercise greatly increase the risks of heart attack, diabetes, stroke and a host of other ailments that will surely disable you, shorten your lifespan or make you miserable.

Kleinberger said the number-one time she gets clients is after their first heart attack or after the doctor’s diagnosis of something bad. The warnings that surely preceded the onset of the condition – in the time when prevention could have made a difference – are not heeded, she said.

With Emerging Healthcare, as with any good program, a permanent change is stressed, not a radical, painful or expensive fad diet promising a swimsuit body in a matter of days.

Kleinberger emphasizes group effort, so that there is peer support. Having someone to walk with and to talk with about nutrition greatly improves long-term success.

Coming up is a perfect chance to both think about and do something about, your own health. The 5 STAR 5K and One Mile Fun Run on October 29th is touted by Emerging Healthcare as a first-timer-friendly event. Emerging Healthcare is hoping to attract new walkers with the goal of getting them ready for this event. Watch for more details on it and for upcoming columns on healthy lifestyles in future editions of the Progress.

What Kleinberger and Emerging Healthcare (as well as every nutritionist and health professional in the country) really want to know now is what holds you back from making healthy lifestyle changes? What are the obstacles to eating better and exercising more? If you know someone who could use a lifestyle change, what would motivate them to get started?

So for Emerging Healthcare, we’re asking. Give your answers however you prefer.

You can e-mail Kleinberger privately at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or you can make your thoughts available for others to ponder on the Progress website (pickensprogress.com). You can look for this article under editorials on our Facebook page (follow link from website), or you can send us an old- fashioned letter to the editor (see info at bottom of this section).

We are interested to see what our readers can offer on why we just can’t seem to eat any better or exercise more often.

Fight "planned obsolescence" and buy quality products

One of this newspaper’s under-30 staff members recently witnessed an estate sale and was dumbfounded by the condition of the former owner’s furniture, knick-knacks and other household goods.

Everything in the lady’s home could be considered antique. Down to the garden hose, nothing was less than a quarter-century old. But despite the age, it was all sturdy, clean and impeccably preserved. Magazines dating from the 1960s were pristine. Thirty-year-old board games still had all the pieces, and antique bedroom sets were solidly constructed and in near-perfect condition.

It’s not uncommon for younger people to joke about the generation represented and its stubborn refusal to change home furnishings: the same old towels hanging in the bathroom for decades; the same pots and pans having cooked family meals since what feels like the dawn of time.

That “keep it ‘cause it works” worldview is hard to find nowadays, and the lifespan of our goods has denigrated from that of hearty oak to cheap pressboard. The stuff we have we don’t take care of or simply throw it away, because we’ve been programmed to believe old is bad, new is good, and newest is best. Call it the plague of the gadget freaks. “Can you hear me now?”

What too many don’t realize is the disposable society we find ourselves living in was contrived this way by conniving manufacturers who rely on a marketing strategy called “planned obsolescence.” Companies make things not meant to last, and after a short while people need to replace them. The approach equals higher profit for the manufacturer and higher costs for consumers over time.

And unlike the stuff of our grandparents’ era, the vast majority of modern goods we purchase aren’t even made in America. They ship in from across the Pacific from countries like China, which has gained a terrible reputation for product quality.

According to The US-China Business Council, America imported $365 billion worth of goods from China in 2010, up from $102 billion in 2001.

In his book Poorly Made in China, Paul Midler, who worked as a consultant to American importers dealing with Chinese manufacturers in the 2000s, says “[Chinese] factories did not see an attention to quality as something that would improve their business prospects, but merely as a barrier to increased profitability. Working to achieve higher levels of quality did not make me a friend of the factory, but a pariah.”

How sad when we so willingly and lavishly support poor business practices such as these. But even if products we purchase are of high quality, somehow we are still goaded by marketing (and conceit) into thinking we need the newest, sleekest smart phone or the latest model car. This type of consumerism plagues our pocketbooks and our world.

A 100-year-old lady once interviewed here told us her impression of people today is that all many of them want is money and somewhere to spend it, and we can’t disagree. The influx and outflow of goods in our homes is enough to produce a case of vertigo. Given the present money pinch, it is past time to invoke the spirit of our elders.

Grow a garden and reduce your grocery bill. Downsize your vehicle and buy it used. Green your home to save water and electricity. Recycle. Buy quality products and take care of them. Use public transportation to save fuel. Refuse to purchase based on fad. Shop locally to support your own community. And buy American-made products to support your country and help increase jobs here.

We all need to relearn the art of being responsible stewards of the things we own, and to not spend so much time worrying about the things we don’t.