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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Harry Hipps speaks about The Gallup-Healthways Survey

There’s been a good deal of chatter concerning the low rating Hickory received in the Gallup survey. The “public face” by many of the region’s leaders has been to not believe that the survey is accurate and to declare their love for the area. Well, many people do love the area and many like myself have longstanding roots here. But many people I’ve read on social media, talked to in person, or have heard conversing do feel stuck in a dead end area. And to live in denial is not helpful.We need honest assessments about where we are and what we need to do to bring vibrancy back to our community.

The Mayor and others are touting the Inspiring Spaces project as the ticket to economic revitalization. It won’t do it. There are some worthy projects on the list and some real dogs as well. And cities do need to move forward on some infrastructure improvements to keep a decent quality of life. Hickory has some great gems. I know I will leave some out but:  the SALT block, the Museum of Art, the Hickory Community Theater, the Choral Society, the Western Piedmont Symphony, LR, the lake, our natural beauty, good location, climate and more….

We also have some real downsides: poor educational attainment by a large segment of the population, worse than average unemployment, wages, and household wealth. These things work in tandem to create our low rating. Poor education correlates with poor income which correlates with poor eating choices which correlates with poor health, which correlates with lower satisfaction with life and so on. We have some other negatives that I believe impact our well being that I will list below.

I don’t believe that city amenities are the key to reversing our fortunes. I will offer the following observations and hope others may add their keener analysis to my list.

First, we have a corporate community that does not build clusters. If you look at Charlotte for example, you see that they are a banking city, but they also try to add related businesses to the community like insurance companies. It’s not banking, but if you have banks, insurance companies, venture capital and related businesses you can attract talent that will work for a company, but if they want or need a change there are options and the whole sector can keep the talent pool working without having to leave town as their only option. When you have clusters, not just individual businesses, you can feed off each others ideas, talent pool, and synergies instead of being a collection of lone rangers.

Charlotte is a Duke Energy town. But they are working to build an energy cluster with some solar (manufacturing as well as generation), batteries and other related industries.

The airport (despite the management problems) is seeking to become a multimodal hub with air, railroad, and trucking being facilitated so that even goods that come by ship into Charleston can flow from this hub.

What is our corporate community doing (with city, private individuals, and investors) doing? Not much that I can see. We have MDI, a major food distributor, a tortilla manufacturer, a couple of commercial bakeries and you would think we could build on this core. What businesses are CommScope helping to move here? They are good community members and give to arts, and charity groups, but why aren't we building clusters like the old furniture and textile guys did?

Secondly, our media is pitiful. The radio does present a good local talk show, but the tv station is Mickey Mouse and shows shopping shows and drivel most of the day. I cringe to think about what someone from another city thinks when looking at our local tv to see what’s happening in Hickory. The local newspaper has no idea of investigative reporting and really won’t dig into issues in depth. Don’t look for them to win awards like the Charlotte paper anytime soon.

Thirdly, we have a risk adverse culture. Innovation depends on taking risk, and some of the most prosperous regions of the country have people who actually are proud of working on start up companies that failed, because they realize that it’s one form of education. No one likes to fail, but if you’re too scared to try you certainly aren’t going to be an innovator. We used to have a good deal of innovation, but no longer.

Fourthly, the City’s strategy of making us a ‘retirement village’ has been too successful. While they have changed their tune lately (with some kudos to the Hound for the focus on the issue), we are older and younger people have shunned Hickory. It’s too bad they didn’t have the foresight years ago to see what they have sown. Driving away a good music and entertainment community hasn’t done much to gain younger interest in Hickory. And it won’t be easy to change Hickory’s image.

Finally, and most worrisome to me is the culture of apathy. Too many people believe the “system” is rotten, not concerned with their situation, and only the “important” people will get their concerns addressed. So they either leave or accept mediocrity, getting by as best they can and chalking it up to just living in sad times.

Maybe I haven’t seen all the picture here and I don’t claim to have every solution. But, though I love this area and some of the great people I know here, we have a malaise here that I don’t find to the same degree in some of the places I visit. I believe Hickory can turn this around, but it will be lengthy and difficult. Denial won’t get us anywhere; work, commitment, and vision will.

Hickory Metro 2014 - Tied for 4th Most Miserable in the United States


John Rambo said...

What a lot of people keep missing is that the rating is not JUST Hickory but the entire HICKORY METRO, which encompasses southern Alexander County, eastern Burke, southern Caldwell as well as all of Catawba County. The city of Hickory can do all it likes and never affect the rest of the county or the other three areas.

James Thomas Shell said...

Mr. Rambo, thanks for the comment. In ways you are correct, but the problem is that Hickory blames Lenoir and Morganton. Lenoir blames Hickory and Morganton. Morganton blames Hickory and Lenoir. And no one accepts any responsility. And keeps going about the status quo. Pretty sad, because to get anything done we are all going to have to take ownership and quit ducking and dodging reality.

Also remember that Hickory is the center and largest city in the metro.

Harry Hipps said...

Again, as with my comparison with Charlotte, if Hickory took the lead in building clusters instead of being an assembly of lone rangers there would be some spillover effect into our neighbors communities. Some businesses we would perceive as "Charlotte" businesses are in surrounding areas because of land availability, lease rates, etc. So I support the idea of regional cooperation and support. But most of the leadership, I would think, should be from Hickory.

James Thomas Shell said...

Glad to have Harry back writing a masterpiece, because he was the lead instrument in writing the objectives of the Hickory Hound nearly 5 years ago. And we have people that have fought us every step of the way. Some have come to reality, but most of our leadership is still fighting it.

Sure, it needs some revision after 5 years of heading down this one way, my way or the highway, road of "leadership", that has dominated this community, but one can still see how relevant it is 5 years later.

The Objectives of the Hickory Hound

1) To encourage the broadest possible dialogue with the largest number of people possible.

2) To revitalize economic growth in Hickory.

3) To use city government to promote our common interest and manage our common affairs efficiently and with respect for conservative democratic principles and individual rights.

4) To encourage the densification of Hickory.

5) To position Hickory as the leader and geocenter of a vibrant region.

6) To no longer accept second class treatment from the State government.

7) To enhance the quality of life in all areas, economically, culturally, educationally, spiritually, and environmentally for all our citizens.

*** This week a survey came out that ranked our metro as having the worst urban sprawl of anywhere in the nation and defined the negative effects associated with such a condition.

James Thomas Shell said...

A Ranking of the Most Sprawling U.S. Metro Areas, and Why You Should Care - The Atlantic - Sarah Goodyear - April 02, 2014

*** Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton Metro ranks as the #1 Worst

RCanipe said...

A huge portion of Hickory's problem is that the "conservative" ideal feeds the thinking of "doing nothing" because of the risk. Few want to grab and endeavor and run with it due to the naysayers who consistently say, "It'll never work" or, worse, "We tried that before and it failed." This attitude permeates the place I work. Moreover, the idea that the Lord will sweep in and save everyone gets on my last nerve. Letters the in HDR are embarrassing as people argue over God and religion and the same two or three conservative curmudgeons write in to tell everyone how much better the "old days" were. Even on the YOU KNOW YOU'RE FROM HICKORY IF site on Facebook, people steep themselves in nostalgia over how great Hickory was when white people were in charge and no people of color other than those trapped in poverty in Ridgeview existed. These folks have no idea how they sound as they become deranged over Obama and the change in America that is truly multicultural and is NOT going away. I'd like to see Hickory MATURE as a place where rich white men weren't in charge everywhere. I'd like to see a town where voters vote for their own best interests for once instead of for the conservative status quo. I've NEVER been represented in Hickory and I've been here 50 years. I've struggled to run businesses and teach people to write in a town that hates me, never let me become a member of their club because I am progressive and not religious. People in Hickory can be the meanest bunch of people!