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Staff Editorials

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.

Good turnouts - good things

This weekend saw surprisingly large turnouts at two events in Jasper.

Around 1,100 kids and families turned out to the Back to School Bash in Lee Newton Park, hosted by Revolution Church on Saturday.

Then 300-400 came through the Cornbread Reunion arts event the same day at the greenspace on the corner of Main and Spring streets in downtown.

Inflatable slides and bounce houses are a surefire draw (just try driving by if you have kids in the car), but 1,000 people is huge for any local event. By all accounts the new church coming to town (site with sign on North Main) gave these families a great way to wind down summer, and for free. Free entertainment for kids of working families is something to be applauded.

We are actually less surprised by the turnout in the park than the turnout for the arts. It’s been a long time since 300 people turned up at any arts event. And the success of this event sponsored by PACA bucks the trend of declining (to be honest non-existent) interest in the arts here.

Before this a one/two punch of Jasper’s ArtFest ending, then the closing of the Sharptop Arts Center (the cornerstone for local arts for many years) left a dismal appraisal of the future of arts as viable community events.

One gathering boasting a strong turnout, selling out of the namesake cornbread, does not necessarily signal the time is ripe for the arts to resurface, but it’s surely a step in the right direction.

We hope the community will take notice of both these events, which civic/church obligations aside, were fun. At the church event, kids got to run and play and parents got to relax. At the arts event, there was a bunch of socializing that lived up to the reunion portion of the name and live music, plus painting activities for youngsters. There was also a chance to see works by local artists and for them to sell some of their works.

Community events are one of the perks of living in a small town: the chance to shake hands with your neighbors and find out what they have been up-to. They are also one of the foundations of democracy: the chance to assemble with your neighbors and get a pulse on how the rest of the people are feeling.

As a comparison, two members of the staff visited the metro area for an event on Sunday which featured difficult traffic, a long walk after paying $15 for the nearest parking space, $12 beverages and concerns of security leaving the event after dark. Needless to say they didn’t have the chance to talk to any neighbors there.

It’s fun to go to the big city for an outing occasionally, but it’s also enjoyable to be a spectator at local events which are completely hassle free.

If you missed the events of the last weekend, don’t worry, fall in Pickens County is thick with opportunities. Talking Rock Heritage Days, Tate Days, the Marble Festival, plus numerous smaller happenings in town and, of course, there is high school football.  

At their Wild Game Dinner, Jasper Methodist Preacher Greg Meadows talked about how lucky we are to have a single high school so we can all cheer for the same team and that’s what community bonds are all about.


Point- Counterpoint: The Eclipse





Once in a lifetime event


By Angela Reinhardt, Staff writer

When I found out school had been cancelled for the August 21st eclipse I was thrilled because it meant my kids wouldn’t have to miss a day of school. 

Yes, I’m one of the geeks who booked a hotel room in the eclipse’s “path of totality” way back in January. I decided to let my kids play hooky because a total eclipse - where the moon passes directly in front of the sun and casts a shadow on earth - is an extremely rare occurrence for our area. I’m 35 and I’ve never even seen one. In fact, most people I know have never seen one. My logic was that my kids could give their science class a full report, and even though it’s not an “excused absence” I could explain it away as educational.  

On the surface it sounds ridiculous to cancel school for a three-minute event, but a total eclipse messes with one of the only constants in our lives – the sun. The sun, this thing early civilizations saw as the source of all life and created entire mythologies and gods around. The sun, one of the most widely used symbols in literature, music, arts, and scripture.

“As surely as the sun rises, he will appear.” Hosea 6:39

“Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun. And I say it’s all right.” - George Harrison

“The sun will come out/Tomorrow/Bet your bottom dollar/That tomorrow/They’ll be sun!” – Annie

Or, in the great words of Steve Martin, “A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”

Not this time, Steve. Not this time. This time it’s going to be daytime but only appear to be night. That’s pretty epic. 

A big concern from administrators is student safety and I think it’s warranted. Our own library has invited a professor of Physics and Astronomy from Dalton State to give a lecture on August 8th on solstice viewing safety, which says a lot. So order those eclipse glasses or learn how to make your own sun viewer (there are tutorials online) and get in on this fun once-in-a-lifetime event with your kids if you can. 


In the dark on all the excitement


By Dan Pool, Editor

The moon is 238,900 miles away. The sun is 92.96 million miles away. Both are too far away for me to care much about their doings. Sure, I’ll be bothered if the sun finally explodes or goes out as that would affect us on earth and in scientific terms be very bad.

But one chunk of the cosmos cutting the other one off in traffic doesn’t warrant much more than a look at the window, certainly not a special trip or cancelled school days. Yes, I know that the moon will not actually come close to the sun on August 21 only getting in the way of its sunburn and cancer causing brightness for a few minutes.

I’ll admit the science explaining an eclipse is mildly interesting, ranking somewhere about the level of Braves’ trade rumors. 

But eclipses have been documented since 3340 BC in Ireland and the Chinese recorded in 2134 BC that "sun and the moon did not meet harmoniously” so they are truly nothing new. And except for possibly  a few members of Congress, no one believes it’s the moon eating the sun any longer.

Nor are they that rare; in fact solar eclipses happen about 60 times a century. This one just happens to be best viewed from our region.

The eclipse will only last a couple of minutes, being a mini-version of what happens every single day, it gets dark.  During that time, remain calm and remember we all have lights and headlights even flashlights so talk of disruption sounds like nothing more than a replay of Y2K hysteria or wishful thinking for those who still have bunkers stocked from the last global case of overreaction. 

Sure I’ll go take a look, careful to not look directly at the sun, but the idea of planning a whole day around it is going too far. In fact, if I had a choice between the eclipse viewing and a new Star Wars movie that would only show for one day, I’d be in the theatre.


It’s OK to not be OK

“It’s not normal. It’s not normal to feel like this.”

These words will never leave the mind of Madison Holleran’s sister. Because just a few weeks after Madison uttered them over Christmas break 2013, she  leapt off a nine-story garage deck in Philadelphia, killing herself. 

Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, had gone from a superstar high school athlete and academic at her Pennsylvania high school to running track at Penn, an Ivy League school. In just one semester, the 19-year-old went from star to struggling – at least in her mind. But no one watching her social media feed would know the inner struggles of this larger than life kid.

Madison was a star athlete in high school, first with soccer then in track. She was the NJ State Champion in the 800m in 2013. She had a seemingly perfect social life – she was popular and kind by all accounts. She succeeded at everything. And maybe that was the problem. 

In her new book, What Made Maddy Run, ESPN commentator and journalist Kate Fagan, details Holleran’s heart-breaking story and along the way reveals the struggle of many young people as they transition from high school to college. 

Maddy’s story is one of a battle with sudden depression as the move from high school to college became overwhelming. She missed her family and found the intense academic and athletic demands, things that had always come so easily, unbearable. Madison was accustomed to being a high achiever in the classroom and on the track. By most peoples’ standards Madison’s performance at college was still stellar, but she wasn’t meeting the demands she placed on herself. 

In her book, Fagan does a wonderful job of showing the pressures young people, particularly college athletes, face to be perfect, especially in an age of relentless social-media.

Although she committed suicide in January of 2014, Madison Holleran’s Instagram feed is still up (maddyholleran), and shows the last photo she posted of the Philadelphia skyline just one hour before she jumped. The image was filtered, Fagan points out in the book -- meaning that before committing suicide Holleran took time to touch up the last image so it would look better than it really was.

Since her death, her family has started the Madison Holleran Foundation. The purpose is to let kids know “It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to show people you’re not OK.”

Depression can happen to anybody at any time, even people who seem to have it all.  Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the second leading cause of death among teens and young adults. Estimates show there are over 40,000 suicides each year, 4,500 of these are young people. 

In Maddy’s case, she was a perfectionist who struggled when she thought she wasn’t the best.  And it made things more difficult when she looked at social media. In her book, Fagan writes: “They scroll through others’ Instagram accounts and say, ‘This is what college is supposed to be like; this is what we want our life to be like.’ While her friends told her they too were struggling, the images on social media trumped the reality they were privately sharing.” The life we curate online is distinctly different from the one we actually live.

A little over a year before she died, Madison posted on Instagram a snapshot of a quote from Seventeen magazine: “Even people you think are perfect are going through something difficult.” That image too had been put through a filter. 

Fagan’s book is a must read. If you’re a parent of an athlete or an academic or just a parent whose child may be facing a transition in life. And if you are a young person, find this book if you feel you are struggling to measure up. 

And when we see those perfect images on social media, remember they likely have been put through a filter.


A journalist’s list about what-not-to-say lists

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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“How to Talk to Artists at Art Festivals – The Do’s and Don’ts (Warning: You’ve probably been guilty of at least one of the don’ts…)” 

This article popped up in my News Feed over the weekend and reminded me of the hundreds of other “What Not to Say to a (fill in the blank)” lists on the internet. The general tone of most of them is snarky, but it’s snark veiled as an informative piece to educate people about proper etiquette.

Here are a few examples if you’re not familiar:

•From the “How to Talk to Artists at Art Festivals” list of what not to ask:

How did you make that? 

“There is a fine line with this one,” the author responds, “as it’s all about the context. Often, this question is asked with the intention of, ‘I’ll go home and make one just like it!’ Which is obviously not good for the artist. Inquiring about the artist’s process (i.e.: ‘Tell me about your process.’) is ok.”

•From “15 Worst Things You Could Say to Your Bartender” list:

I don’t like the taste of alcohol. I don’t want anything fruity. I don’t like beer. I’m allergic to wine. What do you suggest?

“Water. They sell it by the bottle at the gas station. Go outside, to the left, and keep walking.”

In light of this popular but frustrating online genre, I thought I’d come up with my own list to see how it feels. I’ll include plenty of snark and a few smug suggestions for the full effect.

Things You Should Never Say to a Journalist.

#1 - “Can I read the article before it goes to print?” 

No, you can’t read it. It’s against company policy and if you read it you’ll want to change all your comments, probably the good ones, and it’ll take me twice as long to finish. Try instead: I can’t wait to see it when it’s printed.  

#2 - You don’t have to tell me something is “off the record” if we’re talking about what you had for dinner last night. I’m not going to write a story about your pot roast.  

#3 - Did you get all that? Can you remember all that?

  Yes, I got it. Actually, wait. I’ll probably forget it by the time I get to the office and write something you’ll be embarrassed about.    

See. My list makes me sound like a jerk and the truth is those things don’t really bother me. It’s part of the job. Shouldn’t adults be able to handle people not being Emily Post in every situation? 

As for people not “understanding me as a writer” - like people may not understand the plight of the artist or bartender – I typically assume this is the case. I assume people don’t know how many hours I spend at meetings or doing research to get one 600-word story, because why would they?   

My suspicion is that these lists are like trade magazines and are read primarily by members of the niche group (artist, bartender) more than they are by the intended audience. But if I’m wrong, instead of keeping insensitive, obtuse comments at bay they create an atmosphere of fear. 

Instead of saying something insensitive, which may very well have been unintentional, people might decide not to communicate at all because they don’t want to offend. The last thing I want, especially as a journalist, is for people to be afraid to talk to me openly.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good list (grocery lists, to-do lists, playlists), and study after study shows that the brain responds well to them. 

Umberto Eco told The Atlantic the list “has an irresistible magic” and in cultural history has “prevailed over and over again.” Agreed. 

The problem with these “What Not to Say” lists is that people who write them try to make the world conform to them, rather than that person coping with the complex cast of characters in their daily lives - which includes jerks who say thoughtless things and who probably wouldn’t read their list anyway.