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May 2020
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Sell this county like a used car salesman

A national newspaper recently expressed a sentiment that the average family is facing an economic crisis while politicians in Washington face a big election year. The two paths aren’t in danger of colliding. In other words, the federal government isn’t likely to do much to help the economy until politicians get through fighting for the White House.

So here we sit in Pickens County with enough empty commercial space to shelter the Mongol hordes and no plans or prospects to spur new business.

The editor of this paper has asked people over the past month if they see any bright spot on the horizon, anything that might give us a bump with jobs or new businesses?

The answer was a simple no. In fact, no one had any complicated answer that didn’t come back to plain no.

Things are bad economically across the whole nation. It might even be worse here actually, because for the past decade all our economic eggs were in the homebuilding basket, and that sector has been hardest hit.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what started the problem, though numerous opinions abound:  Loss of manufacturing; High fuel prices; Burdensome environmental regs; Healthcare costs; Cheaper labor overseas; Out-of-control mortgage lending to unqualified homebuyers; FDIC policies that stymie local banks. The list could go on forever.

We didn’t arrive at this recession/possible double-dip recession (whatever that means) overnight or over one administration or over a decade. And it is certainly not going to correct itself any time soon.

The local school superintendent cautioned his board last month that state officials believe we haven’t even bottomed out yet. Ugh. It’s hard to think it could get worse, but some fairly astute business people here also offer that opinion.

Nationally it’s frustrating to realize nothing good is likely to happen with the economy for the foreseeable future, and not much will even be tried until after the 2012 presidential election.

Locally, while it’s hard to be optimistic, at least there are measures that can be taken. Doing something, even if it doesn’t pan out, is better than sitting around doing nothing.

The first thing we’d like to see for Pickens County is more cooperation between the county, the mayors of towns here, the economic developer, different development authorities and the Chamber of Commerce.

This county has always been hesitant to offer incentives or salesmanship to attract new businesses here.

In the past, the economic plan has mostly been “We’re hot. Retirees love us, and businesses will follow. No need to make special offers.” But times have changed. Our old thinking needs to reverse.

Consider how much incentive you would like to see offered to a company that could employ ten people, 20 people or 50 people here?

We’d be in favor of offering whatever the county has in terms of immediate property taxes, and certainly, at this stage, we could forego some tap-on and inspection fees to see new businesses open. We’d encourage our economic developer to go even further and come up with a package of other tangible incentives. Great views and small town atmosphere aren’t enough to beat out other counties also seeking to attract what few businesses might expand. We need leaders thinking way outdoors of the box when putting together incentive packages.

The problem is not recouping later whatever we give away now. Surely, within reason, any help extended is economically less-damaging than the ongoing cost of empty commercial space. The cost of empty storefronts includes indirect losses from missed paychecks, missed payments, foreclosures, reduced retail shopping and all the associated tax revenue.

The problem is we may be too little and way too late with this. Other counties have relied heavily on special deals and perks to attract businesses for years. They know the game. We’re already behind in this wheeling and dealing.

Put simply, we’d like to see our development folks sell Pickens County like a used-car salesman – What can I do to make a deal today?