A month ago we ran what we considered one of the more significant articles of this year, which addressed why it seems Jasper is behind in terms of economic development? We wanted to hear from local leaders about why they thought Jasper has not seen the growth of Canton, Ellijay, Blue Ridge and other surrounding areas.
The responses from the commission chair, the Jasper mayor, the economic development director and others were varied, ranging from projects here not being finished before the national real estate downturn; to historical facts about the county; to geography - we are simply destined to be “in between” and other areas have more mountains, trails, rivers.
Readers from all walks of life had plenty of opinions, too. It’s hard to remember a story that has prompted so many comments from so many different people with so many different points of view.
Growth gets people fired up: How the county is doing? What is the county doing to attract it? What should the county be doing to control it? Why is there no Chick-fil-A here?
One of the most common sentiments caught us off-guard: the Progress was thanked for pointing out that nearby towns have outpaced the First Mountain City with retail and commercial growth. We had considered the fact that economic development has dragged here to be common knowledge, and the purpose of our article was to look at why. For many readers, however, it was important to see in black and white a story documenting that there are more stores in other areas with similar populations (Ellijay and Blue Ridge). For some, publicly admitting there is a problem might be an important first step towards addressing it.
• We’ve heard this before and simply don’t put credence into it, but there is a widespread belief that certain individuals intentionally hold back growth. Whether they identify the “good ol’ boys,” the “powers that be,” or identify someone like Jasper’s mayor, a good number of people expressed a belief that growth had been run off from our community.
This doesn’t seem to mesh with facts like the city and county upgrading infrastructure to accommodate growth and employing an economic developer to attract companies. You see for sale signs on prime commercial properties. No one is running business off; too few are seeking to come.
• It’s time for the city and county to look at what they are offering to attract commercial operations and, maybe, put a sweeter deal together. Perhaps it is time for the county to create bolder incentives with tax abatements for new employers. The city has never given businesses breaks to locate here, but it may be the desire of the people for them to do so.
• Create a commercial zone, where businesses locating along Highway 515 avoid property taxes for a specified length of time, was suggested. An additional advantage of this solution is that it lets the city and county have more input about where industries set up.
• Another general opinion is what we need are industrial jobs, something that will pay more than the fast-food, entry-level positions. Solid blue-collar manufacturing, warehouse-style work should be sought. This would also let more kids who graduate from PHS stay here instead of moving away to find employment.
• Another person said we need something big to get the county going commercially, a major project that would drive even more growth. We haven’t had a big development announcement in years [except for a water park that has never gotten off the ground].
• More than one person commented that it is good Pickens hasn’t developed like other places. They like the lifestyle here and hope nothing major locates here to disrupt it.
We appreciate all the feedback, whether the person agreed, disagreed or wanted to offer alternative ideas on growth. Fostering a community dialogue on issues that affect everyone is always one of our aims.