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Unmasking the mythical Good Ol’ Boys network

By Dan Pool, Editor
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    I try not to be petty living in a small town. But frankly my continued exclusion from one club has long bothered me. I have never been invited to become part of the “Good Ol’ Boys network.”
    Maybe it’s because I work at a newspaper or maybe it’s because I don’t believe they exist. Being asked to join this club would be like receiving an invitation from a band of Sasquatches roaming Burnt Mountain. Both are mythical, though there are oft-cited reports of damage they cause.
    Twice in the past month, I have fielded comments about the activities of the Good Ol’ Boys and their platform on growth.
    In the first case, someone attributed the massive Port Royal Water Park (proposed for Highway 515) as being a project driven by the Good Ol’ Boys. They argued that no one else in the community wants it and so it must be the mysterious “powers-that-be” keeping it alive – though it moves only at a glacial pace - if at all.
    It would have been fun to play along, agreeing that it’s a well known fact that southern Good Ol’ Boys love waterslides more than football and no doubt some hidden mover and shaker has already locked up a lucrative sunscreen concession. But I didn’t.
    I pointed out that the site is actually owned by a real estate division of a major national timber company. And none of the developers with Port Royal have any local ties that we are aware of.
    While nefarious schemes are fun to speculate on, this one is a basic business operation, conducted at a national level with big investors and a corporate property owner.
    In the next reported Good Ol’ Boy siting, someone commented to the Progress that downtown Jasper can’t develop because the Good Ol’ Boys like it just the way it is and run off other businesses – especially new eateries and most especially any establishment that wants to sell alcohol.
    Some variations on this conjecture surface a couple of times a year, that forces unseen are intentionally driving businesses away.  I have heard this conspiracy theory a number of times to explain why businesses thought to be popular here (Chick-fil-A and music venues) don’t come.
    Except for a few curmudgeons, it’s hard to believe that most people wouldn’t welcome something unique, like a microbrewery, locating in the renovated NAPA building on Main Street.
    Shying away from a massive water park is one thing, but the idea that local powers-that-be are somehow figuring out who is seeking to locate here and then stopping them is ludicrous. Certainly nothing has stopped the businesses in the Home Depot and Kroger shopping areas.
    Rather than an unseen hand, it’s a case of the Invisible Hand – as in the economic theory that the invisible hand of the market drives business, proposed in the 1700s by Adam Smith and not related to Good Ol’ Boy conspiracies at all. While Smith was talking in broad terms, his theory explains well what we get and don’t get here – the market (demand) drives the economy.
    The reason there is no Chick-fil-A? No one capable of making that investment has felt the best use of their resources is to locate one here.
    Often people opine that the city needs to get some business to move here, as though it’s a function of government to determine what private entrepreneurs do. It’s not. The city of Jasper can’t very well force someone to open on Main Street, though a little more work at seeing the town is well promoted to potential buyers/renters would surely help.
    Ultimately I am optimistic about the local economy, whether the water park and microbrewery show up or not. We see new businesses opening regularly on a slow and steady pace. While we may not be seeing the high profile businesses that excite everyone, the small business environment here is expanding.
    Of course, if I am wrong and the Good Ol’ Boys network is meeting, I’d still be open to get together with them and drink microbrews, eat Chick-fil-A and visit a water park. You can send my invite to the newspaper.