Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bad-off towns

So yesterday evening I was looking at the Huntington WV paper and the story it had on how the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index had ranked Huntington WV at the bottom of national rankings of residents' well-being, followed closely by Charleston WV. I was looking at the chart of the worst-off metro areas, and I noticed these places were in the bottom ten:

Huntington-Ashland WV-KY-OH
Charleston WV
Spartanburg SC
Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton NC
Evansville IN

Huntington and Evansville are along the Ohio River, and Charleston sits along one of the Ohio's largest tributaries.

But what do Spartanburg and Hickory have to do with anything? I was in both of them 21 years ago. In response a glass bottle factory in Huntington shutting down the year before, the editor of the newspaper sent several reporters to some of the areas that were getting new manufacturing jobs at the time we were losing them. I went to the two cities mentioned above. Spartanburg had landed a BMW factory, and Hickory was in the middle of the then-prosperous furniture belt. The folks in Hickory had also lured away a manufacturing plant from Huntington. As I interviewed the economic development director of Hickory, he said something that stuck with me. He said don't think your legislature makes the rules when it comes to economic development. The legislature makes the laws you live by, but the competition makes the rules you play under.

Anyway, I guess the main point of this is that if I show up in your town with a reporter's notebook in my hand, you must be in pretty bad shape.

Now isn't that something to be known by?

P.S. When an editor gets an idea in his head, it's not easy dislodging it. I told the editor that we didn't really lose those jobs. They had moved 30 miles up the road. At Apple Grove WV is a plastics plant now owned by M&G Polymers. It makes plastic pellets that are used in forming food and beverage containers. Those are the same items formerly made of glass and formerly made in Huntington.

I, of course, knew nothing, and my observation got in the way of the point the editor was trying to make, so I was ignored.

It wasn't the last time.

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