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Slow growth not a bad destiny for Pickens

Poor ol Jasper. We never get anything. No Chick-fil-A, no Publix, no Longhorns and we miss the full eclipse. If only our city officials worked a little harder we might have had full totality Monday.

In reality, we can’t blame local government for the lack of exciting growth here any more than we can blame NASA for not putting us in the path of totality.

Figures presented at the most recent chamber meeting and reported in last week’s Progress show that Pickens County is middle-of-the-pack of growth for the state – we’re holding our own, even slightly better than average. 

Could more be done to foster business here? Sure. There is always room for improvement, but the fact there’s not a multi-screen cinema in town is not evidence our officials are turning away commerce.

Critics too often compare Jasper, which lacks topographical assets, to places like Blue Ridge, blessed with both a lake and river (not to mention a thriving tourist railroad) or to Cherokee County, which may not feel very blessed to be bursting at the seams with overflow faces from the metro area.

The figures shown from the Georgia 2.0 presentation demonstrated how ubiquitous slow growth is across the state. The figures from JobsEQ showed Pickens and 139 other counties (FYI Georgia has 159 counties) are lumped into a “rural” category which has experienced either job loss or minimal growth over the past five years. Based on their projections, these areas will not break out of that cycle in the next 10 years.

The report indicated that growth in Atlanta has been driving the state and the capital will see fast-paced development for another decade. Any motorist who ventures south of Cherokee County will not be surprised to hear that Atlanta boomed with a 10.4 percent jobs growth rate in the past five years, outpacing the national rate of 8.3 percent and the state average of 9.6 percent.

The disparity of jobs growth in the next decade becomes more pronounced with Atlanta  reaching 11.6 percent job growth, while rural areas of the state see their job growth at an anemic 1.6 percent – if projections are right, which is certainly not a sure bet.

Statewide results are useful in providing a wide-angle view, but it’s also important to pinpoint what is happening in places like Nelson, Talking Rock and the Foothills area.

And one important point is to realize Pickens County can not achieve much jobs growth as our unemployment rate is already so low it’s hard to find anyone else willing to go to work. In June our unemployment rate in Pickens was 4.6 percent and conversations with business people confirm that attracting decent workers is a prime challenge.

Companies looking to expand are aware of this. If you opened a big new company on Highway 515 who would work there? 

This county could surely use better employment opportunities, higher wages, and career-style companies. But as Cherokee grows, these type of positions may move next door and be a reasonable commute (though regrettably not in our tax base).

The speaker at the chamber, Jason O’Rouke, Vice President of Public Policy & Federal Affairs for the Ga. Chamber, encouraged communities to think differently about economic development, saying a growing trend is attracting younger educated people to live in your area and the companies will follow for the strong employee base.

Can Pickens do this? We do very well  attracting retirees, but we would be playing against character going after educated millennials. 

The community knows that Pickens is a great place to call home and as Atlanta grows we should be able to maintain a solid, if slow, growth here catering to those seeking a retirement community. Our vote for economic development is continue to play to the strengths and not  be stressed by the absence of robust commercial expansion.

If it comes, great, but we’ll be bucking a trend, which isn’t going to be easy.

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