Letter from the ‘Other Georgia,’ which has worse problems than traffic

A welcoming storefront sign in downtown Cuthbert, where too many of the other storefronts advertise what used to be in them. (Photo by Kyle Wingfield)

A welcoming storefront sign on the square in Cuthbert, where too many of the other storefronts advertise only what used to be in them. (Photo by Kyle Wingfield)

Blogging has been a little light this week because I’ve spent most of it traveling and reporting in South Georgia. I was visiting some rural hospitals that are struggling financially, to get a better feel for how a new state tax credit might help them. I was also taking in the condition of that part of the state more generally, and I’ll have some posts coming about these topics.

No sooner had I gotten back than a friend who grew up in that part of the state sent me this ranking of the poorest cities in America. It includes five cities (really metropolitan statistical areas; we aren’t talking about small towns here) from Georgia. That’s more on the top 25 than from any other state; Texas has four, and there are three apiece from Arkansas, Florida and North Carolina.

As the friend observed, four of the five in Georgia are at or below the center of the state geographically: Albany, Macon, Hinesville and Valdosta. (The fifth is Athens.) While metro Atlanta booms and looks for solutions to the problems that come with growth, much of South Georgia would love to have problems coming from too much growth for a change.

As the presidential election results have been parsed, much has been made of the economically struggling areas in the Midwest that switched from backing Barack Obama to supporting Donald Trump. Half a dozen counties in Middle and Southwest Georgia did the same, although it appears those flips were due to lower turnout. In three counties that flipped from blue to red, Trump won despite receiving fewer votes than Mitt Romney did in 2012; it’s just that the Democratic vote fell off by an even larger number.

Then again, Trump’s message of restoring American manufacturing wasn’t really tailored to South Georgia, which struggles more with a failure to respond to changes in agriculture. Here’s how my friend, a sharp businessman who has worked all around the state in his career, described it:

“South Georgia has been slowly fading for 20-plus years. It needs a new economic driver on the order of Atlanta’s airport or Savannah’s seaport. Those South Georgia cities were built on agriculture, which has become so corporate and tech centered that it just doesn’t employ people, at the farm level, the way it used to, and all of South Georgia was built on that foundation. The leaders down there have failed to reinvent themselves economically. … Valdosta would be worse if it didn’t rest on government dollars from the Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Transportation and the Department of Health and Human Services. Outside of these areas there isn’t much employment, period, in Valdosta, and what is there doesn’t pay very well. Look at the old agriculture river cities, Hawkinsville, Dublin, Abbeville, Milledgeville, Macon, etc. They were in their heyday when we still floated our cotton down the mighty Altamaha to Darien and then to cotton mills in England. Once rail and then interstate came, if those conveyances did not go through those towns, the towns began to decay. I am not sure what the answer could be for those places and I rack my brain for the answer all of the time. I would love to help them.”

His point about government dollars could be applied elsewhere. Hinesville is heavily dependent on Fort Stewart; Macon is tied in large part to Robins Air Force Base. Even Athens, which lies in the faster-growing north of the state, for years has had the University of Georgia and too little else (although the Caterpillar and, a little farther away, Baxter plants should provide a boost). In Albany, the buzz was about a single craft brewery that plans to open. At least it will make something: That counts for a lot when economic development there, I was told by one person who’s a close and longtime observer of local happenings, too often is more likely to come in the form of a new chain restaurant.

The 2018 state elections will be upon us before we know it, and here is a theme to which I plan to return over and over: The candidates we need for governor and other offices will be those who understand this state needs to pull two levers at one time. One to help metro Atlanta deal with its growth, and another to help much of the rest of Georgia find some. The latter won’t be easy, as typical government “solutions” revolve around ideas such as building conference centers or tourist attractions. Places like Albany have both; they haven’t spurred the intended growth.  Better approaches are needed.

Reader Comments 0

135 comments
Juanx
Juanx

A more inclusive selection of elected officials would go a long way. The gerrymandered areas need to be redrawn. Also, not letting the  confederate flag waving nationalists take over public parks would spur greater attendance.

PJ25
PJ25

This is some great information regarding south Georgia but you're kidding yourself if you don't think a lot of small and medium sized manufacturers have closed up in south Georgia since the 90's.  As someone who used to work all over the state, when a recession hit, south and central Georgia was the first to feel it and the last to recover from it and it wasn't because people were buying less cotton or onions, it was because little by little manufacturers would simply close up. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Trump University preyed upon the elderly. Remember this when his tax cuts for the wealthy "require" Trump and Paul Ryan to cut your SS and medicare.

"Schnackenberg, who worked in Trump’s office at 40 Wall Street, testified that “while Trump University claimed it wanted to help consumers make money in real estate, in fact Trump University was only interested in selling every person the most expensive seminars they possibly could.” The affidavit concludes, “Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/trump-university-its-worse-than-you-think

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@IReportYouWhine

Watch this over and over to amuse yourself when your SS and medicare are cut to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.

I didn't know Juan Williams was such an important person in your life.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

@AvgGeorgian @IReportYouWhine You know what is so sad about this, Avg, I am not too stupid to realize how much obozo/ clinton gave to Wall Street, Big Pharma, Big Insurance and all their other cronies, whom you like to call the "wealthy."


Don't hold your breath on President Trump doing the same.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@IReportYouWhine @AvgGeorgian

I agree with you on Clinton and Obama. It was wrong then and is still wrong.

I am not a political partisan-I do try to ferret out what's best for the working class.

Read his tax cut plan and tell me who you think it benefits and why it's okay to use deficit spending to pay for it.


AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@IReportYouWhine @AvgGeorgian

If you are rich, this is good for you;if not, ask yourself why you believe that 50% of the cuts should go to top 1%. 

Ask yourself why a divorced mother with two teenagers who makes $75K will pay $2400 more in taxes while a divorced mom in the same situation that makes $400K gets a tax cut of $25K.

You still didn't answer why you think deficit spending should pay for a tax cut that mostly benefits the wealthy.

Why do you contrast the wealthy and the government. Do you not trust the working class to spend better than the wealthy?

If you will profit from this inordinately, just say so.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

@AvgGeorgian @IReportYouWhine You scratched out one little niche. Everyone else will benefit from this. Besides which, she's probably knocking down 50 grand a year in child support. I'm not crying over this one.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@IReportYouWhine @AvgGeorgian

Soooo, you think most divorced heads of households get tons and tons of child support, seem to be against paying to support one's own children, and you are okay with taxing the $75K divorced mom more to pay for tax cuts to the $400k divorced mom.

You are okay with the working class getting a 1.7% cut and the rich getting a 7.9% cut, all being paid by deficit spending(except for raised taxes on some of the working class)? Just say your a deficit and spend liberal.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

@AvgGeorgian @IReportYouWhine I have read it. It looks like it will be a 10/15/25 plan for personal income tax, depending on negotiations. Even if the rich are going from 35% to 25%, I still trust them to spend the 10% better than the government will.


And a corporate rate of 15%, versus the 35% it is now, will create a boom like it always does. With increased revenues offsetting the temporary losses.


It is the same plan the John F Kennedy proposed, pretty much.

GSPInc
GSPInc

@AvgGeorgian @IReportYouWhine Its actually a pretty good middle class plan. I think its a very telling partisan cop-out to just yell  "tax cuts for the rich!!!" when the plan is a lot deeper than that. 


It shows only two things: 1) Partisan politics and one liners 2) Real genuine ignorance about how these plans work. 


SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Another police officer murdered execution style in Texas. Time for police departments to train and equip their officers for patrolling in hostile environments with order to kill the scum that threatens them with cowardly violence. Protests should be met with arrests and felony charges for those who commit vandalism or violence. Trump will hopefully follow through with his commitment to be the law and order president that Obama, shamefully was not.

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

@SGTGrit Sad news about the officer. the incident took place by a police headquarters..How much more do you want the police to patrol outside of their headquarters?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@IReportYouWhine 

Obama's legacy is failure and if Trump, stays true to his committed agenda Obama's failure will become settled history much sooner than he thought. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Just want to be clear that "conservatives" on this blog (I am a fiscal conservative and want a balanced budget) are okay with greatly increased deficit spending to give huge tax cuts to the already wealthy and small cuts to the working class?


Do a lot of wealthy people live in the "other Georgia"? Will that help these areas?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@AvgGeorgian 

So you're a fiscal conservative. You should then understand that the working class need jobs and poor people don't create jobs. Seems as though you're not too clear on that fact.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@SGTGrit @AvgGeorgian

The average working class person spends all their money in our consumer based economy. This is what drives the economy and creates jobs.

A rich person using his tax cut to buy another 1,000 shares of apple stock does very little to help the working class. Apple has more money than it needs and manufactures its phones in China.

You have been brainwashed to thing the wealthy are smarter and better than you and that the working class cannot be trusted with money. This makes you either rich or stupid.

SebGuy
SebGuy

Looks like they even need bigger government than they already have? Yet if you ask them, they will swear they are for "smaller government" until it is time to close those bases and cut other funding. 

What reinvention that takes place is going to have to involve an infusion of public dollars in some fashion and my guess, when that opportunity arrives, they will happily accept all that big government they can get!

Perhaps part of the answer involves legalized gambling? Or perhaps they can lead the nation in so-called vertical farming?
 

Whatever the answer may be, I'm sure it will not be delivered by Trump and the Republican Party. As long as these rural and working class people continue to vote social issues and zero-sum identity politics (against racial minorities, immigrants,immigrant children brought here as infants/small children and know no other country, Muslims-a registry?, LGBT, non Christians, etc...) then they deserve to suffer economically because it is karma. The sooner they learn that we all need to be able to prosper, even the people we do not like, and that rich folks are not going to save them, the sooner the country will become even greater.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

@SebGuy (against racial minorities, immigrants,immigrant children brought here as infants/small children and know no other country, Muslims-a registry?, LGBT, non Christians, etc...)


If you think that this will solve any of the regions problems, I can now understand how they developed in the first place.


Thanks, but if we need help, we will be sure to ask for it. Yep.



IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

#2 for rural areas is the elimination of subsidies for giant Agribusiness and the ethanol mandate. 

Agribusiness needs to be broken up and sold off to local entrepreneurs, with the assistance of government backed, interest free loans to provide start up capital. Many small rural towns used to revolve around the needs of small farmers and getting their grains to the market. We need to get back to that and watch the local infrastructure, including hospitals, return.


Continued........

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

Most of all is the elimination of the ethanol mandate. This is a crime against humanity, in every sense of the word. It raises the cost of food, greatly impacting the poor. It uses more energy and produces more pollution than if we just burnt gasoline instead. It would lead to more demand for oil/gasoline, which would, in turn, increase national energy production and the building of new refineries with cleaner technologies than the existing ones have. 


Continued......

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@IReportYouWhine Not to mention water.  Corn is one of the most water hungry crops you can grow and would be uneconomical to grow in S Ga, were it not for the ethanol subsidy.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

All of these actions are force multipliers, an increase in one activity leads to the increase in associated activities, which, in turn, leads to an increase in activities associated with them. And on and on.

We have done nothing but clamp down on ourselves over the last three decades and one man saw the vast potential that could result from unlocking that bondage. And, like this column states, many people await being unlocked from that bondage. Let's free them up to be Great Again.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

And if you think robots are going to be a big part of the construction industry anytime soon, you may want to stop doing drugs. It's not even anything the next generation has to worry about. That's why infrastructure should rightfully be at the top of our list. Not just public works but new factories (even ones full of robots,) pipelines/ refineries, housing/ Walmarts for the incoming labor forces, roads, schools and everything else associated with repatriated business returning to our shores. 


Bring them on.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

Okay, so if robots are taking so many jobs away from people, then why are the democrats and the establishment types so hell bent on bringing the entire world here? Let us pause for a moment to think about it. First it was "jobs that Americans won't do" and now it's "jobs that robots are happy to do."


Uh - huh.


Now we have only one answer to my first question; because they vote for democrats.


Trump won the popular vote too, if you just count Americans.


Deal with it.

NativeAtlantan57
NativeAtlantan57

Donnie Boy calls Saturday Night Live and Hamilton "overrated." So, any entity that deservingly disrespects him is not worthy? These are words of a wannabe dictator.

bu2
bu2

Southwest Georgia could use an interstate highway.  Doubt KIA would have gone to West Point w/o 185.  Transportation is ok down there, but a lot of businesses won't consider a place without an interstate.  An interstate running from Cartersville to Tampa could help everyone.  The Western Bypass could be resurrected from Cartersville to 185 and cutting across the south to hit I-75 east of Griffin, easing traffic in metro Atlanta. 280/82 and 19 could be upgraded from Columbus to Albany to Thomasville down to I-10, providing a straighter route to I-10 to relieve I-75 traffic in middle Georgia.   From there it could connect with Florida's future "Northeast corridor" which connects Tampa to Gainesville.  Florida would ease traffic on their stretch of I-75.  It would also connect South Florida to their state capitol and provide better access to the Emerald Coast as the other north-south routes, I-75 veers to the east and I-65 veers to the west.

lvg
lvg

The other Georgia could have thousands of new jobs if Trump locates more ICE detention centers for the 11 million illegals in south Georgia similar to prison set up in Lumpkin Georgia and privately run.  Just think what a growth industry this could be for rural Georgia!!.

On the other hand he and Cons could repeal  the 2008 law allowing illegals from Central America to stay and have due process by claiming asylum. Maybe with Obama gone they will no longer blame him  and repeal the Act.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

@lvg Be careful of what you wish for, if we do that^^, who will be voting for democrats in the next election, besides the cry babies on campus?

bu2
bu2

4 research universities in Georgia-UGA, Tech, Georgia State and Augusta.  Notice a pattern?  Research universities create jobs.  The best candidate is Georgia Southern.  They need to upgrade them.  They also need to merge Armstrong Atlantic and Savannah St. and create a stronger university in Savannah, as they did merging Albany St. and Darton.

lvg
lvg

@IReportYouWhine Executive Order coming to make cast of  Hamilton all white and Republican

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@lvg @IReportYouWhine

Diversity is a naturally occurring experience. It doesn't require social engineering by a bunch of self-important Broadway actors and producers.

NativeAtlantan57
NativeAtlantan57

Ironic (and sad) that Donnie Boy won the electoral college when so many of his supporters never set foot in a college of any kind. Most came out from under their rock to do the first, and likely last, civic-minded thing in their life by voting. Welcome to the dumbing of America.

bu2
bu2

@NativeAtlantan57 Of course, those without a college education were the only group to vote for Hillary.  But that would disturb the typical condescending liberal narrative.  Trump just did better in that group than most Republicans.

NativeAtlantan57
NativeAtlantan57

@bu2 @NativeAtlantan57 Accurately analyzing the voting demographics is a "condescending liberal narrative." You better be prepared to deflect and rationalize many more sad facts.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

@NativeAtlantan57 You're talking about the closed minded cry babies that are currently staging sit ins/ diaper fillings on campus while they set everything around them on fire, right?

bu2
bu2

@NativeAtlantan57 @bu2 When the majority of the least educated voted for your candidate, how is your comment "accurate?"