Google Groups
Join To Get Blog Update Notices
Visit the Hickory Hound Group

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

A conversation about Water Transfer

(This was going to be told to the Hickory City Council if the subject came up last week)

Dick Morris, the political strategist, talks about the Matador, the Cape, and the Bull. Elected Officials represent the matador, the citizens represent the bull, and the inconsequential current events of the day represent the cape. Issues such as the water transfer and sinkhole represent “cape issues” in my opinion. They get everyone frothing, but in the end they carry no substance.
I went to the Rhodes room at the county library to look up census numbers and found a folder on Water issues.

A 1965 Charlotte Observer article stressed that we would be out of drinkable water in 10 years. Obviously that didn’t happen.

A 1969 Hickory Daily Record article stated that Duke Power had hired the Engineering firm of O’Brien & Gere of Charlotte and they estimated that we could use 90,000,000 gallons per day without having an adverse impact on Lake Rhodhiss and Lake Hickory.

A 1975 Hickory Daily Record article showed that we were utilizing 21,440,000 gallons of water per day. Of that 10,323,000 gallons per day were being utilized by industry.

Article from the Hickory Daily Record on 8/25/2007 stated that we were using 16.5 mill gal per day and the city wanted us to cut back 3 to 5 %, and a later article said that they wanted us to cut back 5 to 10%, and yet another article stated that they wanted us to cut back 10 to 20 %. The Governor even stated that he wanted us to cut back 50% on our water usage.

Article in the HDR on 9/ 29/ 2007 stated that we had cut back usage from 19 mill gal per day to 14 mill gal per day.

These numbers show that we aren’t even using the same amount of water per day that we were using in 1975 and according to statistics we are nowhere near the limit. Please show me an independent engineering study that shows the dire need for all of this hyperbole.


The area we are arguing so fervently against is part of the Charlotte Metro Area. The Catawba River flows a lot further than down to the Charlotte area and we aren’t going to be able to stop the growth of communities downriver. Are we going to cry every time a commercial venture is proposed downstream? How are we going to feel when Marion and Morganton tell us that we are using too much water?

We’ve gotten all lawyered up and made enemies out of Kannapolis, Concord, and maybe even David Murdoch. We can’t expect other communities to follow our city’s example of controlled growth. Most communities understand the vital need to generate the kind of economic opportunity that increases the size of the pie for all of its citizens. It should not be the role of governments to hinder that.

The State of North Carolina is going to stand behind whoever or whatever generates more revenue for the state government. Like Bill Clinton stated 16 years ago, “It’s the economy stupid.”

Let’s quit worrying about symbolism and start worrying about substance. We can no longer afford to keep a myopic, small town mentality around here. There are over 40,000 people living in this town, 80,000 in the township, and we are nearing 400,000 people in the metro area. We will either aim for all out progress or continue down this road of stagnation.

The success or failure of this city depends upon bringing Major Industry back to the area. We have got to get back to manufacturing products. That is the issue that we should obsess about, that is the issue that should consume our thoughts. That is where we need to be.

The vitality of Hickory does not rest upon what happens 40 miles away. Let’s stop with the animosity towards our fellow communities and work on making this the innovative community it can and should be. You know Can’t never Could. Let’s be leaders and not followers.

James Thomas Shell

Vitally Important Election Upcoming (Last Year)

Vitally Important Election Upcoming
(Published in the Hickory Daily Record in November 2007)

I want to talk about our upcoming election and how important that I feel it is for Hickory’s future. This area has come to the crossroads of our existence and over the next couple of years we are going to have to make crucial decisions that will have an impact on this city for generations to come.

Going on seven years, we have seen a lack of economic productivity that has had a negative impact on most of our citizen’s standard of living. The two most important issues that this community faces are the standard of living and underemployment. These two issues are directly related to one another and without addressing these key issues; we are just going to be continuously spinning our wheels in an economic rut that leads nowhere.

There are too many people that look at our economy as though it is an accounting ledger. Dynamic economies are not built upon a series of plusses and minuses. They are built upon exponential growth brought on by investors’ willingness to risk their assets in a region based upon what it has to offer. The bottom line is that investors are going to go where they think they can get the most bang for their buck.

It is more than evident that over the last couple of years we have had two elected officials within our city that do not understand the concept of economic development. Mrs. Sally Fox and Mrs. Jill Patton have constantly voted against measures that would help foster economic growth for the area and they have voted for measures that will cost businesses thousands to millions of dollars in profit.

A few examples are the fight against Lowe’s being built on NC 127, the attempted restrictions they wanted to place on Martin-Marietta’s granite quarry, and their contentious opposition to allowing businesses an extra three years to meet the new open storage codes.

Many of you might say “Good! Sock it to ‘em,” but the reality of the situation is that these type of efforts have a hard impact on a business’s bottom line and thus their decision about whether or not to invest in this area.

It also has a direct impact in your wallet, because businesses have two ways of dealing with decreasing profits. They can either reduce their expenses (and their biggest expense is typically labor) or increase the price consumers pay for their products and/or services. Either way, in the end, you pay.

To put our economy back on solid ground, we need major industry back in the area. We don’t need any more micro-managing, big government, bureaucrats on the city council. We have been lucky so far because these two individuals have not been able to push much of their burdensome agenda through. For the sake of our city and the area that it dominates, let’s keep it that way.

Mr. Bruce Meisner is running unopposed and in my opinion he has been very much pro-growth oriented. Mr. Brad Lail and Mr. Danny Seaver are not running unopposed, but I also believe that the record shows that both of these gentlemen have for the most part supported the vital interests of businesses in this area.

Much more needs to be done and in having personal conversations with Mr. Lail, I personally believe that he gets “It.” I may not agree with Mr. Lail on all positions, but having known him for years, I can appreciate those minor differences. Most of us know that he and his family have a major stake in the success (and also failure) of this region.

Without getting into the personal details of our conversations, I can tell you that he understands the need to hit a home run on the Major Industry front. He, like myself, being a product of the UNC higher education system understands the value of education. He also understands that a good economy is built from the bottom-up and not from the top-down.

I just don’t feel that Mrs. Nancy Willingham (his opponent) could understand Hickory and its needs. She has just recently moved back to Hickory after being gone for decades. How can she understand this city and what we have been through? Nothing personal, but it appears that she is only trying to ride her father’s coat tails.

We know nothing about this lady’s platform. At this crucial point, in our city’s history, can we take that chance? I am sorry, but we cannot afford anymore of the social elite, anti-business mentality, like that of Mrs. Fox or Mrs. Patton on the council, and we can’t elect someone just because her father was mayor four decades ago.

The alternatives are clear. We can vote for pro-growth candidates that will support an agenda that will turn our economy around, sooner rather than later, or we can take our chances by voting for a nostalgic candidate. A candidate that might just throw us into the mire of bureaucratic mess that I believe Mrs. Fox and Mrs. Patton represent.

A strong, healthy, dynamic economy feeds off of itself. When people make more money, they spend more, businesses prosper, property values increase, and there will be increased revenue for our local government to improve Hickory. We can then afford a new university, nicer schools, better parks, better recreation, and all of the other amenities afforded to a robust economy.

In my opinion, the choice is yours. Do we want a responsive government that helps businesses succeed or do we want a burdensome government that chases businesses away? Will we remain at an economic standstill or will we give pro-growth candidates a mandate to move our region forward?

James Thomas Shell

Thursday, August 28, 2008

We Need More Energy

We Need More Energy
(Published in late August 2008 in the Hickory Daily Record)

It’s sad when Paris Hilton makes more sense than government leaders. and have plans that do exactly what she espouses in her commercial. Read them and think about joining them.

Most everyone agrees that our current energy policies are unacceptable. Demonizing fossil fuels will not solve the problem. Look around you Plastic, Glass, Metal, Fiber, and Silicon all need Oil and Coal to produce. There is no Utopian alternative available. Admitting to having a problem is the first step towards solving it. We will have to utilize carbon-based energy for many generations to come. We have and will continue to become more efficient in its usage. The population continues to grow and immediate elimination of fossil fuels will lead to grave consequences.
We currently produce around 6% of our energy using renewables. We aren't going to find the other 94% overnight. I love Wind Turbines, Solar Panels, Hydro Electric, Nuclear, etc. and hope we find true breakthroughs soon, but I refuse to fall victim to the green rhetoric that is contributing to the stagnation, litgation, and burdensome regulation of our economy.

Creation and expansion of energy resources creates value. Our government (which is us) would be paid fees and royalties for the right to drill, which should be invested in renewable energy projects. Economics 101 shows that increased supplies of energy will bring prices down. It’s a win-win.

We must keep energy money in the USA, because it protects national security, keeps the dollar strong, and supports quality high tech jobs. As stewards of the planet, we are all environmentalists. We can responsibly use its bountiful resources.

James Thomas Shell

Do Something

Do Something
(Published in the Hickory Daily Record in August 2008)

Where is our economic and social justice when it comes to the problems we face in this country? We the people of the United States own this country. Our representatives, who are supposed to work for us, are blocking us from getting what we mandate. In corporate America they would be fired for such insubordinance.

An example is the current energy crisis. I don’t believe that many of our legislators truly understand how dramatic this situation is. Billions of dollars are leaving our country daily, while the dollar continues to weaken, and rogue nations are propped up by insane policies. The bureaucracy has cooked the books to the point of telling us that everything’s fine and we aren’t in a recession. If they want to live in fantasyland that’s ok, but don’t do it at our expense.

It’s time for the bickering to cease and action to begin! Most of this country’s issues are not complex, but many of our legislators are ruining our future by putting their personal interests ahead of national interests. What they are doing is treasonous. I often wonder if an Economic Depression would be enough to reign in their arrogance.

The Declaration of Independence states, “…governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it…”

We deserve representation. Much of what King George was doing 232 years ago is being done to us today by a federal government that has lost perspective. The bureaucracy has created a class amongst itself. They have forgotten that they have their jobs at the discretion of the citizens and seem to believe that we are here for their disposal.

Common sense allows for the belief that we are all unique individuals and therefore we are going to have differences of opinion on important issues. But, we cannot allow those differences to create this bitterness that will not allow us to progress as a society. We should immediately act on issues where we share similar beliefs and work diligently to see where we share common ground on the most divisive issues.

I refuse to believe that we are all so different that we cannot agree on anything of substance, but that is how we are currently being governed. America the Super Power has become its own worst enemy. Our complacency and unwillingness to move forward in this new age will destroy all we have inherited.

It is disrespectful to previous generations to squander what they worked hard, sacrificed, and fought to give us and immoral to pass on our gluttonous debts to generations that have yet to be born. Do you realize how easily our liberty can slip away?

James Thomas Shell

Put America's Interest above Parties

Put America's Interest above Parties
(Published in the Hickory Daily Record on 7/14/2008)

On July 7, 2008, Lee Brinson wrote about how many of us – apparently only conservatives – have not done our homework on the oil issue. I’m a disenchanted Republican that disdains much of the leadership in my party.

In 1994, the GOP was placed in charge of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, because they proposed a real agenda. Republicans wasted the opportunity to truly reform our bloated government. Instead of implementing “The Contract with America” one step at a time, they overreached and achieved very little other than welfare reform.

Over the next 12 years they compromised to the point of abandoning their core principles. While the current Republican Party is unrecognizable, the Democrats have kowtowed to the extreme elements of their party to the point where our country is economically stagnated by a sea of taxation, regulation, and litigation.

We can’t grow our economy without energy. I’d love to do it with Solar Panels, Windmills, Hydroelectric, and Nuclear energy, but go do some homework and see who has stood in the way of those resources. There have to be tax incentives and fast tracks to foster research and development. Tax incentives are also needed to make alternatives affordable to the average consumer. Will the shortsighted tax revenue lust of our bloated bureaucracy allow for this to happen?

In the meantime, Fossil Fuels are the lifeblood of our economy and the high prices of fuel are ruining it. The quickest route to getting the economy back on track would be to get fuel prices down to a reasonable level. If the world market sees that we are taking comprehensive steps toward an energy solution, then the current Oil Bubble will burst and we will see oil below $100 a barrel in a matter of days.

Mr. Brinson, it will take nowhere near 10 years to get oil out of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. I’d also like for you to understand that the oil companies are not drilling on the current set asides, because the geologicals say there is no oil there. Should they drill where scientific research says there is no oil? Your homework seems to be the regular Cliffs Notes talking point memoranda spouted out every day on television.

I would like to ask you, would you rather be sending millions of dollars to dictators or keep that money here and support the high paying, high tech jobs that would go along with it?

Energy is integral to making the economy grow. If you truly want a bright future for generations to come, we must dispose of the rhetoric. I agree that we need to be more efficient in our energy usage, but we cannot conserve our way to the energy independence that would be best for our nation’s security.

The last thought I would like to leave you with is that this country is not about being a Republican or Democrat, it is first and foremost about being an American. The two-party system is full of a bunch of greedy politicians getting rich and powerful at our expense. May I ask you, what have they done lately that make them so worthy of defending?

Is Conservatism Dead

(Previously Unpublished, submitted to the Hickory Daily Record in June 2008)

As a philosophical conservative, I sadly feel that we have been successfully marginalized as a bunch of yahoo, God fearing, gun toting Neanderthals by the left. It is ridiculous. To label conservatives this way smacks upon the same intolerance that liberals profess to disdain.

Personally I have chosen the conservative philosophy because I believe in individual liberty and self-determination. People need to take responsibility for themselves, their actions, and the consequences of those actions. True conservatives are natural environmentalists, because we use all resources and assets wisely. I believe progressive developmental plans will allow us to take care of the environment without doing it at the expense of social and economic progress, as well as personal freedom. We can achieve a balance!

Personally, I believe that God gave us dominion over this planet and wants us to use its bountiful resources to improve Mankind. I refuse, as an American, to feel guilty about the circumstances that have been granted us. We should revere our ancestors for what they have left us. It is not our fault that other countries have chosen conflict and dictatorship over peace and prosperity. The Third World’s circumstances have been created by the sins of corruption, greed, and jealousy.

Politics is heartbreaking for conservatives these days. On the national front it is more than obvious that we have no voice. The three candidates still remaining are all liberals. In my opinion they stand for nothing. Except for the war on terror, there is hardly any appreciable difference between these candidates.

We are on the precipice of an economic calamity and yet we hear nothing about what the candidates would do to fix it. It is all shame politics. Sound bites and slogans far outweigh action; promises made lead to promises broken or forgotten. I do not want to vote for anyone because of my contempt for another.

The Republican Party that has been our home for years has been hijacked by a bunch of elite country clubbers that seem to be more worried about image rather than substance. They have compromised their principles to try and win some sort of popularity contest. Conservatives don’t look to raise taxes and waste money like the current Republican leadership. That is what has caused the chasm between the working class and the Republican Party and it must be addressed.

Too many times I have seen an ambivalent and uncaring wealthy class unwilling to take a hit to their own standard of living, all at the expense of the middle class. It seems to be more important for politicians and business executives to lead gluttonous lifestyles than to accomplish meaningful goals.

You want examples? What about trade agreements such as NAFTA? Companies are given every reason in the world to ship their jobs away. How are we supposed to compete when there is no level playing field as far as wages and environmental issues are concerned? Executives don’t seem to mind. Heck, they get to go on whirlwind world vacations and write it off as a business expense, as though they’re doing real work.

Look at toy maker Mattel. Last year 21 million toys made in China had to be recalled due to substandard practices. The company lost $46 million in the first quarter this year compared to a $12 million dollar profit for the same period last year. The company’s stock has lost over one-third of its value and this is directly attributable to the fallout from those imports. I don’t believe this would have happened if those toys had been made in the USA.

What about all of the high priced executives of now bankrupt or imploding companies? They run the company into the ground, leaving with their golden parachutes, and the company’s employees are left with no job and maybe no severance pay or pension. What has our government done to stop this?

If all of this doesn’t help business executives continue their prima donna lifestyles, then our Federal government has created an immigration policy that leaves the borders wide open so that businesses can keep worker wages artificially low. This exploitation of the labor force naturally increases short-term profits and thus fattens executive bonuses. There are consequences when these practices go bad, but rarely do the people making these decisions pay the price. It’s usually the stockholders and employees that get the shaft.

Also, I can’t see why politicians are ignorant to the fact that every major recession since the 1970s has been contributed to by a petroleum crisis. Yet, what has been done to alleviate our dependence on imported oil? Zero, sip, nada!!! It is due to total negligence and incompetence that we are in the position we are today. This situation could have been averted, but that would have taken forethought and common sense. Instead a political crisis has been created by inaction and it has been done purposefully to create a political football.

Now Hillary and Obama want to complain about Oil companies’ greed. So they have this bright idea that their mentor Jimmy Carter first dreamed up during the Oil crisis he created in 1979. Let’s have a windfall profits tax. Did you know that government already gets twice the revenue as the Oil companies on a gallon of gas? How would these two geniuses keep the Oil companies from just tacking this new tax onto already steep prices? The answer is, they can’t.

From January to March the average price of gas (in NC) was around $3.20. Of that about $2.20 was the crude oil component, State taxes and fees were on average 30 cents and the Federal tax is 18 cents. Distribution Costs, Marketing Costs, Refining, and Profits account for the rest, which is 52 cents. Of that 52 cents approximately 20 cents goes to bottom line profit. Oil executives are not going to lower their profit margins in the name of a government scheme. In my opinion, a windfall profits tax would be the fastest path to $5 gasoline.

The key to fixing the problem is simple. US companies must produce more oil. Demand keeps rising, yet there are fewer resources (refineries and wells) coming online. ANWAR and the continental shelf must be developed and refineries must be built. Create alternative energy source incentives. Hydro, Nuclear, Solar, and Wind are but a few of the alternatives. Every little bit of reduction in usage of petroleum counts and allows for further development of technology. Quit putting Band-Aids on this open wound.

The current Real Estate debacle is much the same. The government’s backing of bad loans, bad lending policies, and lack of oversight are what led to the bubble and subsequent bust. It will take some time, but Real Estate will come back in the next few years. However, none of our nation’s problems will get any better until the shortsighted, consciousless schemers are made to suffer negative consequences for their manipulations.

It is our government’s job to look out for everyone’s best interest. It’s supposed to be a government of, by, and for the people. The politicians are too worried about their personal welfare and not the public’s best interests. Right now, we have a government going to the highest bidder. These days I sure wish there was an alternative to the two-party system. The solutions are simple, but the political machine has gone bonkers. It’s too bad that it appears nothing short of a cataclysmic event will fix our political system.

Let Him Build It

Let Him Build It
Response to Article about Zagaroli Project on Hwy 127n
(Published in the Hickory Daily Record February 2008)

I enjoyed reading your front-page article about Pete Zagaroli’s proposed sprucing up of 127. It shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. At what point do the bureaucrats around here get it.

Here we are in the midst of a Real Estate Depression, yes drastically falling property values does equal a Real Estate Depression, and we have an entrepreneur willing to take a risk. His proposed development would boost our local economy several different ways and here is this Commission saying, “Nuh–uh-uh, you can’t do that. It might make a few people’s trips take a little longer.”

We’ve already seen this whole argument about Lowe’s. Of course no one said anything about 242 being built 10 years ago. It’s right across the street from the High School. No one tried to stop the complex where Viewmont Apartments used to be. That place juts out into the road, has parking spaces in the street, and blocks sight lines. I also seem to recall reading where Council Lady Jill Patton praised the new bakery being built where Yesterday’s was. I’d love to dig into the rationale behind all of this and see what pops out.

What is with all of this arbitrary picking and choosing of projects that Council people and Commissioners deem worthy or unworthy based upon their collective whims? It is a sham to say that Mr. Zagaroli can’t build his project because it encroaches on neighborhoods and might cause burdensome traffic – it’s a highway for gosh sakes. That false issue could be used as a reason to not allow anything to be built. I hate to tell you, but everything encroaches on neighborhoods in a city.

As a matter of fact, with the way gas prices have risen, most citizens want restaurants and retail stores to integrate into our local communities. I know that I would rather walk or drive a very short distance to dinner or shop, rather than have to drive to the other side of town.

It seems to me that something I thought about a long time ago has come closer and closer to fruition with the passing of time. That is that there are two classes of people in our society, those in the government and those who aren’t. The bureaucrats don’t live in a realistic world. They can decree all of these agendas and when they stifle the economy, they never accept any fault.

Mr. Zagaroli is right. We cannot have a robust economy without these types of projects being allowed to move forward, especially in these times where the economy is at a standstill. I know the bureaucrats are comfortable sitting on their lofty perches, but the rest of us still need to work and more projects equal more jobs, better jobs, more income, and a better economy for Hickory. I just wish that more of the rational people in this community would step forward and start to speak up.

James Thomas Shell

Do we need a UNC-Hickory?

Do we need an UNC-Hickory?
(Previously Unpublished - Submitted to the Hickory Daily Record on 9/30/2007)

What I am writing, in this letter, is my opinion of the politics of the idea of a 4-year university in the Greater Hickory area. My name is James Thomas Shell and I would like to preface what I am about to say by letting you know that I have a degree in Finance from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and a Culinary Arts degree from Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte

I value my education and am proud of the university system that I am a product of. I also am very proud of the community college system that was developed by our state. I really think that the higher education system in this state is one of (if not) the best in the world.

That being said, I really cannot understand the need for a freestanding UNC-Hickory. I think a satellite campus for Appalachian State (or UNC-Charlotte) is an excellent idea with these classes taking place at our local community colleges, but where is the money to create the infrastructure needed for a freestanding 4-year university supposed to come from?

It is understandable why the existing higher educational institutions in this area are questioning the need for an UNC-Hickory. Such an institution would most certainly have a huge impact on their annual budgets. The State of North Carolina is not going to over extend itself in the amount of money allocated to this area's educational needs and local enterprises cannot support another institution without cutting back on their contributions to existing institutions.

The article from September 29th sadly shows local government leadership getting way ahead of itself on an issue that is nowhere near a priority for our present economic circumstances. We can surely see that local business and educational leaders are not on the same page as the government when it comes to this issue and it looks like someone is attempting to embarrass certain people for having a differing opinion on the matter.

Certain issues must be hitting close to home when Mayor Wright states, "I think political means public service. The only agenda I have is more and better education achievement of the people of this region. That will mean better jobs, more money, and an enhanced standard of living. I will do anything in my power to promote that agenda."

Mr. Mayor, education means nothing if there aren't jobs waiting for the graduates of said institution. The problems of this area do not stem from a lack of education, the problems of this area stem from a lack of employment opportunities for the people of the Hickory area.

It would be years before such an institution could be built and our economic problems are in the here and now. Are we supposed to wait several years for such a pie in the sky plan to develop?

It is time that you quit passing the buck to the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council. You should be using your "power" to bring major industry back to the area.

It is not my goal in life to be your adversary. I would love to be proud of my hometown's mayor. I supported you in the beginning because you presented yourself as a fiscally conservative Republican. Now six years later you tell us that you are unaffiliated and results show that you support out of control, redundant, big government bureaucracy.

You have continually delegated all initiatives to committees, agencies, and commissions -- and you tell us about power? It seems like this delegation makes you think you are absolved of any responsibility for the lack of results of the last several years. Think of the great, powerful leaders of history, is that what they did?

Being Mayor means a lot more than the ceremonial role of eating free food and cutting ribbons. You have no control, because you have put all of your eggs in the "Big Government" basket. During these trying economic times, we desperately need to be streamlining our local government's chain of command.

Instead of going on retreats to big cities to play follow the leader and get their manual on "How to get Government involved in every facet of Individual's lives," maybe you should be spending the citizens of Hickory's hard earned tax dollars finding out what major industry needs to relocate to this area.

The mayor and city council should be doing this. This task should not be passed off to others who cannot be held accountable, because they are not elected officials. All you are doing is creating another layer of bureaucracy and the red tape that comes with it.

In the end, it is Mayor Wright and the council that should be held accountable for the lack of economic growth in Hickory. It is not because the citizens are uneducated or lack necessary skill sets. There were thousands of people that were retrained a few years ago, after the fiber-optic bust. Did it make any sense to retrain these people and not develop the industry needed to support that retraining?

We have a big problem with underemployment in Hickory. How many people in this area have college degrees that are unable to find work in their field of expertise? How many people are working in jobs in which they are vastly overqualified and/or underpaid? How is a 4-year university going to solve any of this?

Let's get to the heart of the matter. The lack of economic growth in this area boils down to the fact that the jobs just aren't there. Once again we have our local government leaders putting the cart before the horse, a local government that is out of touch with the needs of its citizenry. The only thing that they should be focusing on is the one issue that they try to avoid like the plague. We need major industry to come back to this area.

Our local government is in a malaise. They just can't seem to get out of their own way. To many of us, they appear to be lost. If our local officials can't deliver on the jobs issue, then they need to get out of the way and let people with fresh ideas and creativity in. That would be in all of our best interest and that is what a true public servant would do.

James Thomas Shell

Don't talk about it. Be about it!!!

Don't talk about it. Be about it!!!
(Previously Unpublished -- Submitted to the Hickory Daily record on 9/25/2007)

Don't talk about it. Be about it. That is what a fellow co-worker used to say when I worked at Bald Head Island. It's about substance over symbolism. Politicians and bureaucrats are always speaking the standard clichés, but seldom do they deliver on anything. Frankly, I am tired of the rhetoric and I am ready to see some results.

The standard lines are. "I want to create jobs. I want to make sure everyone is included in government. I'm for clean water, clean air, and the environment… yada, yada, yada. The question is, who opposes this?

The incumbents always tell you we are on the right track. They always spin the numbers, saying the future is bright. As citizens, we know whether we are doing well or not. We don't need politicians to tell us everything is wonderful, when common sense tells us that it's not.

Maybe I am different, but all I want are a few things out of a candidate I am going to support. First, give me a couple of specifics about your agenda and how you plan to implement them. Second, show me that you are real and not just your regular old political opportunist. Last, show me that I can trust you and that you are going to follow through on what you say you are going to do.

I have read recent articles, in our local papers, which go strictly against my better judgment. These articles have told us that the unemployment picture is improving, while statistics show it is well above the national average, here in the Hickory area. The politicos never talk about this area's huge underemployment problem. It is a travesty when we have college graduates vastly overqualified for the positions they hold and working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet

Are we truly on the right track, when our industrial base has been obliterated and replaced by low paying service industry jobs? Are we really better off when every factory in this area seems to be turning into a distribution warehouse? Are we really better off when so many are working through temp agencies? What does this really say about the future of Hickory?

I'm sure the people at the top, many of whom are involved in our city's government, commissions, and agencies can live with the status quo. But, a city is only as healthy as its middle class and the middle class in the Hickory area has been squeezed for several years. We grow more anxious by the day when we see the trivial pursuits of our city's leaders.

How many years are we supposed to be patient? Are we looking for social butterflies in our city's most prominent positions or are we looking for people to get some tasks accomplished. We need some substance. We need some cold hard factual successes. We don't need to hear about this leading to that. We need some "that." Talk is cheap. Results pay the bills. Don't talk about it. Be about it!!!

Building the Bridge to Hickory’s Future

Building the Bridge to Hickory’s Future
(Previously unpublished - Submitted to the Hickory Daily Record on 7/23/2007)

The last seven years have been hard on most of us in this area. We have seen our wages stagnate, while seeing other areas of the country (and even our state) prosper. The cost of living here is low, but wages haven't kept up with the growing expense of everyday life.

I love this town. I moved back here after college, because I wanted to, not because I had to. I wanted to be near my family and the familiar surroundings I grew up in. That doesn't mean I didn't want the area to mature. I want it to grow and prosper.

I went to the Internet and found a quote from our mayor. At, look up "Oct. 11 election: Catawba County – Sleepy." You will find a quote from the last (2005) election.

The article states, "…he needs four more years to work on the city's economy and that he plans to campaign harder than he did against Pat Moss in 2001. 'I told people I was going to look for opportunities to put more people to work,' he said, 'and I've worked on that and I want to do more.'"

How have you done this Mr. Mayor? Where are the results? There are example-after-example of individuals that were laid off after the fiber-optic bust, given unemployment, and paid to be retrained. There weren't jobs waiting for them in these fields they were retrained for. Guess what many have had to do?

They have gone back to the companies they were working for originally. They aren't official employees of those companies though. They are doing the same job as before, but they are employees of temp agencies such as Adecco and Manpower. Many of these people have been temporary workers for more than a year. What kind of security does that bring to these people?

Temp Agencies are a dime a dozen in this area. Seems that is the rule of the day. Pay the worker $9 an hour and the temp agency $3 an hour. Wonder why there are so many in this area? The modus operandi is to hire the people on with no job security, no benefits, and pay them less than they were earning five years ago. How can anyone build a solid financial future working like this?

Two of our city councilors, Jill Patton and Sally Fox, did there best to keep Lowe's from building in Viewmont. In the same article quoted from earlier Mrs. Patton states, "I want to make sure everyone is included in government and has access and feels that they are heard. I don't believe (Watts – the former councilman) listens to his constituents."

Mrs. Patton, you seem to only represent a few of the social elite in northwest Hickory. Most of us wanted Lowe's. It is by the grace of God that it narrowly slipped through you and Mrs. Fox's ignominious clutches. The property looks a lot better than it did before. We can only hope that we have more development such as this in our future.

Most of us admire Lowe's. An American dream, a little hardware store started in North Wilkesboro has grown into a fabulous corporation. Do you know how many average people became rich in North Wilkesboro because they worked or invested in that company? When you try to tear down such an entity, you mock the entrepreneurial spirit that has made this country great.

I understand the concerns of Ace Hardware in Viewmont. We all have to face competition in our everyday lives. My aunt owns 1859 Café (here in Hickory since 1984). Seems every day a new restaurant opens in this area. Where are all the concerned citizens when these restaurants open? Jane has learned to adapt and roll with the punches.

The only priority of the Mayor and the city council, at this time, should be to bring major industry to this area. To do this, we must institute a force-like focus on this task. Everything else should be pushed to the background. Why even think about any new projects until we have money to spend on them. It is a waste of time.

The best and brightest young people in this area are going away to college and they aren't returning. They can't make the kind of money here that they can in cities that have better economies. Those left go straight to work out of high school.

The vast majority of these kids can't find good paying jobs in our present economic predicament. The factories here keep wages artificially low by hiring illegal immigrants and utilizing temp agencies. This may net them more profit now, but it will lead to a bleak future for our city. Without more successful twenty and thirty year olds, this city will die.

We cannot build this area on service jobs. We must have industry. We must build and create material goods. That brings money into this area and creates value.

Restaurants, bars, retail stores, and professional offices are nice; but they do not add value to our area. They are a luxury, because if people don't have the money to purchase these services, then they will not be successful. How many of these businesses have come and gone the last few years?

Too many people in Hickory want to put the cart before the horse. The bureaucratic commissions and agencies are fine and dandy if you are looking to line the pockets of bureaucrats, but do they create value? Seems they just make expensive suggestions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand what our problem is.

What is the number one priority of this city right now? We need better jobs for the people of Hickory. If we work on developing a better job base, then people will make more money. More jobs in the area means more competition for labor means higher wages.

This will create a more dynamic economy that will feed off of itself. If people make more money, then they will spend more. Businesses will prosper, property values will increase, and there will be increased revenue for our local government to improve Hickory.

We need major business to come here and we don't need to be scaring them away. We don't need to hear the term "not in my back yard" over and over again, as we have for the last several years. We don't need the city council and county commission snooting their noses about every proposal that comes down the line.

Our city councilors and county commissioners are our employees. They shouldn't be picking and choosing what they want to focus on based upon their personal preferences. The only objective should be to do what is best for all of us.

We don't need shortsighted leadership. We need objective people that will look to the future and try to envision what we can be, instead of looking at where we are and telling us what we can't be.

Water issue is a Straw Man

My Opinion piece in the Hickory Daily Record on September 17, 2007

Water issue is a Straw Man

In reading the your voice segment by Joice Smyre on Thursday, September 13th, "Where would we be if water siphoned off now," we see this "Straw Man" issue brought to the forefront and once again our fellow communities are being tarred and feathered unnecessarily...

Do the people of Concord-Kannapolis realize the inappropriateness of their request for water from the Catawba River, she asks?

I don't think the citizens of those cities are looking to do us harm. Unlike our community they have a great economic plan for the near and mid-term future. We can't expect other communities to follow our city's example of socialism. Most communities understand the vital need to generate the kind of economic opportunity that increases the size of the pie for all of its citizens. It should not be the role of governments to hinder that.

The Catawba River flows from Marion to the Atlantic Ocean. There are and will be many communities that will grow along it's banks in the future. What kind of a power grab are we asking for when we cry every time a commercial venture is proposed downstream? How would we feel if Marion and Morganton started badmouthing Hickory about our water usage and they wanted to turn off the spigot?

This drought will not last forever and we must all do our part to get through it. Are you doing your part? In the future we all (including municipalities) are going to have to conserve and recycle water. That technology will be necessary as the population continues to grow.

That is just reality, unless we are going to become an authoritarian nation that micromanages every facet of individuals' lives.

In the end, we need to worry about the economic growth of Hickory and stop obsessing about what other communities are doing about their circumstances. We cannot stop that progress. This issue has been vastly overblown by local politicians that want to cover up the fact that they have accomplished nothing significant in years.

The State of North Carolina is going to stand behind whoever or whatever generates more revenue for the state government – that is why they have approved some water transfer. Hickory's seven years of slow (to no) growth leads people to wonder about where our community's priorities lie. When Fortune 500 companies come knocking, will we lend a helping hand or push them away, because of petty concerns.

Instead of blaming Concord-Kannapolis for wanting water from the Catawba River, let's thank them for the cold hard slap of reality.The vitality of Hickory does not rest upon what happens downstream. Let's stop with the animosity towards our fellow communities and start fixing our own problems. The success or failure of this city depends upon bringing Major Industry back to the area.

We must learn to accept the things we cannot change, have the courage to change the things we can control, and hope that God helps us to know the difference.

James Thomas Shell

Buffalo's dumpsite drama too personal for city's leaders?

My Opinion piece in the Hickory Daily Record on August 10, 2007

Buffalo's dumpsite drama too personal for city's leaders?

Listening to the mayor on WHKY radio, I heard his take on the Buffalo's sinkhole issue. He kept squawking about the fact that Mr. Mason paid too much for the property - which was $1. He seemed as though he was mocking a situation he helped to foster.

Not once, but twice, our city has inspected and approved this site for business use. The city knew from the beginning there could be problems with the site. After the first incident, the drainage pipes were still not put in place properly. The rush job done at that time is what led to the current situation. The city approved that reconstruction. The city could have also condemned this property after the second incident.

Paraphrasing, the mayor said the city should bear no burden for the expense of cleaning up this site. Seems if the city did, then we would no longer have a "nuisance" on our hands and the situation would finally be behind us. He also flatly stated he doesn't care how Mr. Mason gets it done, as long as he gets it done. Does that make sense? Shouldn't the mayor be happy Mr. Mason is going to be paying for a mess that the city contributed to?

Seems this issue has become a little too personal for our city's leaders. If you had condemned the property, then Mr. Mason would have never been able to purchase the property. The city would have been and should have been hauling the garbage off from this mess - that they helped to create - a long time ago.

Nothing should ever be built on that dumpsite again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Is the third time supposed to be the charm?

James Thomas Shell

An All-American City deserves first-class leadership

My editorial published in the Hickory Daily Record on 7/15/2007

An All-American City deserves first-class leadership

We all know that a few short weeks ago that Hickory was designated as an All-American City. It is neither here nor there that I believe that this is a bureaucratic marketing tool that has been amusingly awarded every twenty years to our city, What makes us any more of an All-American city this year than we were in the thirty-seven years that we were not awarded the designation.

I was born in this city in 1966. I have lived here for 35 of the 41 years that I have been alive. Those years that I have not lived here were years that I was in college. If anyone has a vested interest in the success or failure of this city it is I.

I cannot say the same for the city's leadership in this era. The city has been floundering economically since the fiber-optic bust of the early 2000's. We were living in a false economy built upon the over production of fiber that was supposed to be laid for the burgeoning broadband, world. The problem was that the world was over-bloated and over extended.

We saw what happened as a result. The Hickory metropolitan area had way too many of its eggs in the fiber-optic basket. The area rested upon its laurels, basking in the glow of the fiber-optic boom of the late 1990's. This boom hid the underlying and festering problems that were due to come to fruition when the business cycle took its normal course (and slowed), as it did in the year 2000.

Hickory's old school manufacturing base consisting of textiles and furniture was built upon low skilled, low wage, intensive manual labor. The city has seen most of these jobs slowly dwindle as it has become more affordable for these companies to send these jobs overseas or south of the border.

The jobs in these industries (that remain in the area) are often taken by individuals that are here illegally. It seems to be a proven fact that the only way that these companies can remain profitable is by illegally hiring immigrants, willing to work for cheap wages, that are not supposed to be in this country. What does that say for the security of our city, when we have people here and we don't know who they are?

I have never seen the city council or the county commissioners address these issues. They seem to be more worried about how they can inflict more superfluous costs on the businesses that are essential to making this community grow and prosper.

Each city council member seems to have several pet projects that are laughable for a community of this size. This is not Mayberry R.F.D. This city is geographically at the heart of western North Carolina and we have well over a quarter of a million people living within a 25-mile radius of the heart of Hickory.

The high school clique mentalities of our city's leadership are the only thing that is holding this city back. They just don't seem to get it. They are more worried about elementary social issues that do not develop a community.

Mr. Rudy Wright is worried about what you are wearing on your t-shirt. Ms Jill Patton seems intent on trying to destroy any business that does not meet her personal taste. Mr. Brad Lail is worried about dirt hills near his family's business, but he isn't worried about the shape of many other properties in Hickory, because he has no vested interest in them. Sally Fox is only worried about what is happening within 5 blocks of the "right side of the tracks" of Union Square.

You see, most of us aren't Country Clubbers. Life isn't built upon cocktails on Saturday night and Mimosas on Sunday morning. We get outside of our little clique and we see what the real issues are for Hickory. You say you aren't anti-business; that you are pro-Hickory (what the heck does that mean?). In my book, if you aren't pro-business, then you are anti-Hickory.

The people of this area care about jobs (real, meaningful jobs), not jobs working through a temp agency, not low paying jobs with no benefits, but jobs with a future, jobs we can be proud of. We want new economic development. We need to look to the future, not the past, to see how to do this.

We need to be inviting alternative fuel energy companies to take a look at the area. We are located at or near several major thoroughfares. We need to look at the biotech industry and how we could entice these companies to come here. We need to look to future technologies and how we could play a part in their development. We see Charlotte thriving, yet we are floundering. It's time to end the excuses and show some results.

We need to have an open mind and work with any business that is interested in locating here. I'm not in favor of dumping toxic chemicals into our rivers or air and I don't think that 99.9% of industries intend to have harmful impacts on the environment. Any company that has a progressive plan and will bring good economic development to the area should be welcomed.

I personally would like to let the city council know that 99% of us don't care about downtown Hickory. Hickory is a suburban area that is well spread out. It is time to put less development money into downtown and start investing it in the neglected areas of northeast, southeast, and southwest Hickory.

If the people downtown want the area developed, then it is time that they 100% foot the bill like every other business does. So much money has been wasted on downtown. Guess what, 99% of us could care less about going downtown and you aren't going to change our minds. So as usual you have been throwing good money after bad.

In closing, I would like to let the people of this city know that we make the decisions around here and I think we have not made wise ones when it comes to choosing our community leadership. We have elected selfish, egotistical leaders that have not had our interest at heart. They are worried about issues that do not impact our daily lives. Too many of these people have conflicts of interest with what best serves Hickory. It is time, in my opinion, that we change our representation.

Ask yourself: How many t-shirts have you read today? Does that dirt at Buffalo's ruin your day? That Lowe's on 127 sure has ruined Hickory, hasn't it? Man, don't you wish they would sink more of our tax dollars into Union Square….Just think about it.

James Thomas Shell