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Opinion

Whistling Dixie

SoVaNow.com / February 04, 2016
Dear Viewpoint:

Letter to the Editor: RE Reprint on January 6, 2016 “Demise of Small Town America” by James A. Bacon.

As a new Board of Supervisors prepares to spend an increasing amount of public funds and the Tobacco Commission prepares to add to its total of over $1 Billion dollars for failed industrial development in Southside Virginia, it is appropriate that the above article was reprinted by a local newspaper. Members of the Board of Supervisors have indicated that now there is a majority in control who favor increased spending on failed projects that they will now be able to move the county forward. But to where?

The author of the piece above, James A. Bacon cites government data to buttress his argument that small town America is facing a current and future crisis which could very well lead to their “demise.” It and the book by Gerald L. Gordon CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, “The Economic Viability of Micropolitan America,” should be required reading for all members of the Board of Supervisors, the IDA members past and present, Chamber of Commerce members and officers, as well as others of the Halifax County community such as Donnie Ellington, Brandon Scearce and Nick Long.

For those of you who missed the article, Bacon quotes the Bureau of Labor data as summarized by the Brookings Institution, concluding that “the future does not look good for small town America.” Further, such towns showed the “third straight year of population loss in 2013. Small cities and towns dependent upon manufacturing have been particularly hard hit.” (Emphasis added).

In the book by Gordon, he finds the economic outlook for small towns as “grim,” regardless of the opinions of the mayors, councils, industrial development authorities or boards of these small towns. One of the problems he cites is the “brain drain” from the rural communities to the larger metropolitan areas, a phenomenon mentioned in the past by our own Ted Bennett. The loss of residents with skills and education to metropolitan areas hampers small towns from attracting industry because of a lack of residents and skills and education making it difficult to attract employers who would then recruit or retain educated workers. This in turn erodes the tax base which makes it even more difficult for the small towns to have the resources to compete.

Something which is most interesting is that Gordon finds that there is a niche which these small gowns can fit. It is for “people who prefer a slower-paced life in a tightly knit community where everyone knows and supports one another. For the most part, those people are retirees.” (Emphasis added). He adds that “unfortunately, to date, local economic developers have stuck with the industrial-recruitment strategy that bears less and less fruit.” This is increasingly true in the time of a shrinking economy with few full time jobs being created, many companies reducing the hours worked by their workforce and an estimated 75% of new jobs being part time. This last occurrence in even more strange in that many are calling for an increase in the minimum wage which has in the past always led to fewer minimum wage jobs and the loss of opportunities for entry level employment.

Halifax County has a dispersed population and as a consequence it becomes more and more expensive to provide the necessary public services need to attract new residents and businesses. As mentioned above, the Board of Supervisors is still investing scarce small town-county resources in infrastructure projects that yield little in value to the community in total but benefits financially certain small segments of the community. He mentions the observations by Charles Marohn in Brainerd, Minn. who chronicles such foolhardy investment such as being proposed by some members of the Halifax Board of Supervisors.

In the recent past, Tourism has been heralded as valuable factor in the reinvigoration of small rural communities. But there has been no definition of what constitutes “Tourism.” Is it a citizen of a neighboring county visiting Wal-Mart or Wendy’s? Is it someone spending the night at a local motel? Is it an out of town individual visiting a local restaurant? The question is important as we currently have no way to tell what “Tourism” is or isn’t and how to measure it. VIR claims that it brings in $75 million in tourism receipts to the Pittsylvania/Halifax area without relying on Visitor’s Centers to bring in their cliental as neither does the South Boston Speedway.

It has been said that the voters get the government they want. Those who are elected are not to blame for that government, but it is those who did not vote as well as those who voted for or supported candidates elected in that government either because of ignorance or for favors. The new majority on the Board of Supervisors has shown in the short time in office that it is returning favors for support. After promising not to increase spending, new members have at the first meeting of the year to violate that promise. More is yet to come with the inevitable increase in taxes Rogers.

Barry Bank

South Boston





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