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, dot.com world. The problem was that the dot.com 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
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