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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hickory - The Company Town

What we have seen in this community is that there are 60ish, 70, 80 and 90 year old people who are stuck in the nostalgia of yesteryear. They want to desperately go back in time to a place that held comfort for them. A place where everyone conformed to a top-down static reality. The plantation had evolved into the company town. The definition of a Company Town is a community that is dependent on one firm for all or most of the necessary services or functions of town life (as employment, housing, and stores). Old Hickory was basically an Oligopoly where a handful of companies ran the town and for the most part the families who controlled those companies are still trying to maintain control today.

That does not work in the modern ever changing world, but we have people who are holding us hostage. We have already seen the precursory economic decline in this community, and while the clock ticks towards the oncoming complete population implosion, we have those in charge telling us to sit down and shut up while they continue to attempt to jam their square peg into the round hole. All they are doing is busy work.

It is time that a 21st century mindset is allowed thrive in our community. I spoke about it all four years ago. Rudy Wright attempts to conveniently espouse that we have somehow turned the corner. This is the same Mayor Wright that was telling us after the economic implosion of 2001 up until 2008 that this was going to be our year, every year. His supporters say don't listen to Shell and his friends. They can't tell you why not to listen to us. They just attack me/us and say that we hate Hickory. No, I hate that they have that Old School, Company Town, segregationist mindset, "you stay on your side of town and we'll stay on ours, but we are going to tell you what to do on your side of town."

I know an older lady that lives in Highland. She moved there around six years ago. She reported gang activity and tagging to the police and to several members of the Hickory City Council. They listened, but didn't do much. She was actually told by a Council member that she should have known better than to buy a house in the Highland area. That is the mindset that I speak of above. They want to have slummy parts of the community. We've all met people like this in our lives. They build their egos up by putting others down... And that is why Hickory is failing. The Company Towners...

I go back to an article I wrote on July 25, 2009:

Hickory -- A Lack of Creativity?

We are living in a transitional age. A period of transitioning out of the industrial age and into an age of individual empowerment. That is causing great discomfort in our region, because many of the people here in our metropolitan area were married and devoted to Manufacturing and Production industries. The loss of these industries gives people a feeling of loss and abandonment.

Abandonment is defined as, to leave completely and finally; forsake utterly; desert.
Abandonment is a core human fear that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives. The people in our area, who are suffering through these rough economic times, brought about by unemployment or underemployment, feel lost and/or helpless, because the structure they were depending on for their very survival has disappeared.

These issues of Abandonment tend to damage ones self-esteem. The loss of our manufacturing economy is much like
abandonment by a friend. When a friend abandons you, they are still alive, but the pain that we feel is a sense of rejection. That is much the same as the people in this area who have employment issues. These people have not only lost their way of life; they have lost their sense of self.What our area is going through economically is overwhelming to many of our citizens. They are wary of the rapid change we are seeing and suffering Anxiety at the thought of having to adjust to such a different world. But, we cannot stop this change!!! We are part of this new global experience, whether we are willing participants or not. We can and must have an open dialogue about the future, but one thing is certain, we better get on the road that will lead to better economic circumstances; because the longer we wait, the harder the road will be to hoe. Doing nothing is not an option.

I believe the current economic climate in this nation requires that we define a new parameter of economic circumstance. We have to come to grips with the realization that our Manufacturing Industries are not coming back. Right now, around one-third of the Hickory metro's businesses are manufacturing. That is compared to 12% nationally and it is down from over 50% less than 20 years ago. We are suffering from that negative momentum and it is a waste of time to look in the rear-view mirror. We are going to have to redevelop our job structure by joining the new age of creativity and knowledge.

People must come to the realization that careers will no longer be determined by specific tasks. Employment will be determined by broader generalities. You will have to define yourself by the strength of your skill-set. Whatever you are good at and your niche and interests will determine your career. This means that your unique, and in many ways inherent, skill-set will determine your employability.

The name Richard Florida has been brought up in the Economic Development circles I have been involving myself in as of late. His focus is on social and economic theory. He is currently a professor at the University of Toronto. While he was teaching at Carnegie-Mellon University (in Pittsburgh, PA), he wrote a book called The Rise of the Creative Class. He believes the development of the Creative Class is a key driving force for economic development of post-industrial cities in the USA.

He wrote an article in the Washington Monthly, in May 2002, that describes his thesis of the Creative Class. The article is entitled The Rise of the Creative Class - Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race. While I don't completely agree with some of what the man espouses, I do agree with many of his premises.

In the article he displays a system of what he calls Creativity Rankings. Below is a summary of their meaning:
The key to economic growth lies not just in the ability to attract the creative class, but to translate that underlying advantage into creative economic outcomes in the form of new ideas, new high-tech businesses and regional growth. To better gauge these capabilities, I developed a new measure called the Creativity Index (column 1).

The Creativity Index is a mix of four equally weighted factors: the creative class share of the workforce (column 2 shows the percentage; column 3 ranks cities accordingly); high-tech industry, using the Milken Institute's widely accepted Tech Pole Index, which I refer to as the High-Tech Index (column 4); innovation, measured as patents per capita (column 5); and diversity, measured by the Gay Index, a reasonable proxy for an area's openness to different kinds of people and ideas (column 6).

This composite indicator is a better measure of a region's underlying creative capabilities than the simple measure of the creative class, because it reflects the joint effects of its concentration and of innovative economic outcomes. The Creativity Index is thus my baseline indicator of a region's overall standing in the creative economy and I offer it as a barometer of a region's longer run economic potential. The following tables present my creativity index ranking for the top 10 and bottom 10 metropolitan areas, grouped into three size categories (large, medium-sized and small cities/regions).
If you take a look at the article, you will see that the Hickory MSA was ranked #54 out of 63 in the Small Size City Rankings when this article was published in 2002. These rankings consisted of 63 metro areas reporting populations 250,000 to 500,000 in the 2000 Census.

We were ranked #61 out of 63, in the percentage of Creative Jobs that existed in the community versus total jobs in the community. (Wiki) Creative industries typically include industries that focus on: creating and exploiting intellectual property products such as music, books, film and games; or providing business-to-business creative services including advertising, public relations and direct marketing. Hickory also ranked near the bottom fourth, #48 out of 63, in High-Tech jobs. In the other two categories, Innovation and Diversity, we were ranked in the middle, #32 and #30 respectively.

The Hounds Opinion (July 2009)  - This article by Mr. Florida is seven years old, but I feel it holds a lot of relevance towards what Hickory has seen over the last seven years. I think over time that I will be able too prove the division between what I have constituted as Old Hickory and New Hickory. Some may not like the semantics of the term "Old Hickory," but I do feel it is the reality of our current circumstances.

The correlation between the issues that Florida describes with Pittsburgh of 2002 are much like the issues that our own city faces. Pittsburgh is a lot larger than Hickory, but it is in the foothills of western Pennsylvania like Hickory is in the foothills of western North Carolina. It was an industrial city that was primarily developed around steel, much like we developed on furniture and textiles. Pittsburgh has an excellent educational system that supports three major universities. And the most predominant issue Florida describes in this article is how the city can retain its best and brightest citizens.

Pittsburgh has apparently dealt better with the transition that Florida describes in this article. Their unemployment level is 7.3% compared to this areas 15.5% problem. Pittsburgh's primary industries have shifted more to high technology, such as robotics, health care, nuclear engineering, tourism, biomedical technology, finance, and services.

The people of Hickory should recognize that this city has a lot going for it, but we have to be honest about where we stand and willing to change the direction of this city to take advantage of its resources. We are losing many of our best and brightest young people and the numbers bear that out. While the middle-aged and elderly populations have grown substantially in the area, the 18 to 45 aged bracket has stood still since the year 2000. That reminds me of a church that doesn't add younger members. It is sure to fail. If we don't turn this situation around, then the writing is on the wall about the future viability of Hickory.

Hickory can no longer afford to give business "the business." We are moving into an age of connections and our government must become more adaptive and friendly to the needs of all business. If we want to grow this city, we must make sure that we have growing commercial enterprises. Lay out the ground rules, be consistent in the implementation, know what you are talking about, know the answers, and help entrepreneurs do their thing. Their needs to be an open dialogue between all of the citizens and city government. We must all come together.

A key to creativity is understanding and accepting the needs and differences of individuals. We should foster a tolerance of new realities. Many of today's realities were thought to be totally unrealistic and inconceivable in the past. In my opinion, we are running people out of this area and limiting our options, because we want people to conform to a template. We hear a lot about like-mindedness, but what about diversity? In the end, we can debate all of our differences, but we need to leave our egos behind and do what is needed to move this city forward in a positive direction. Everyone must be made aware that, from top to bottom, we are all in this thing together; because divided we will be sure to fall, but if we begin to collaborate, then we will soon stand in the positive reality of a bright and shiny Hickory.

1 comment:

talferris said...

Remember watching the Ten Commandments and Charlton Heston went up to the Mountain to receive the Commandments? The camp fell apart because he was gone for so long and the people were led astray and back to worshiping the golden calf? Back to the old ways? Back to what was comfortable? Back to what they might not agree with, but to that which was known and in knowing, understood? Remember that?

Interesting parable that serves well to illustrate what is going on now in Hickory. Those oligarchs harken back to the day that they can return to their days of glory and triumph of years ago. That is their message today. And you know, it might be grounded in potential.

As I write this, our government is at a standstill; Federal, State, Local. Factories are looking to come back to the United States because the costs of doing business here are now cheaper than it once was; due in part to a dramatic drop in the cost of labor. Yes, people are now willing to work for a fraction of what they used to simply because it’s work. Those businesses that fled off-shore are now looking to crawl back and exploit the very people they took advantage of a decade ago by leaving. They are creating their own version of the golden calf yet again. And they continue to win. They continue to make money. And the people have suffered heavily.

Yes, Hickory is in a prime position to exploit the heralded return of those same Oligarchs back to the region with open arms and a key to the City. Because those that controlled them stayed here. They see it as a win/win in terms of once again supplying semi-skilled or skill less jobs to a ready, willing, and under educated work force. They can go back to paying lower than standard wages, lower even than when they left and well below the national average.

Hickory returns to what it was, the nay-sayers like the Hound are quieted, and the circle is complete once again. Although I don’t know it, I’ll bet you that this very thing has been discussed at the Bar or over the banquet table at one or all of the Country Clubs in Hickory and Catawba County. It fits.

One can only hope that there is someone rising to strike down this notion, break the circle, and lead the people not exploit them, away from a century of bondage.