… and a new one begins

Published 8:28 am Friday, April 16, 2010

Nearly six months have passed since we learned the news, but still we struggle to accept the once unthinkable: Franklin’s paper-making days are over.

Thursday closed a long second chapter in our community’s history. After its development in the 1830s as a trade center on the newly constructed Seaboard Railroad, Franklin’s enduring identity was established in 1887 when the first log was cut at the Camp family’s sawmill. For 123 years, we were a proud mill town. Today we begin writing a new chapter.

Even as we wrap our collective arms around displaced mill workers who face an uncertain future and say goodbye to those who have found employment elsewhere, we must look forward with optimism to the building of a new identity and believe with every fiber of our being that a stronger Franklin will emerge from the depths of our present despair.

We refer not to the shallow lip service of paid optimists but to a genuine optimism that is rooted in high expectations of our citizenry and of community leaders in whom we have placed our trust.

For too long, this community has allowed itself to be dragged down by low expectations — and a failure to hold ourselves and our leaders accountable for our economic well-being. We hear it time and time again from those seeking to justify our economic stagnation: “You have to understand: This is Franklin.” We understand completely, except we shift the emphasis: This is Franklin.

Home of some of the finest, most caring and industrious people on the planet. Positioned perfectly on a four-lane highway between one of America’s most traveled interstates and one of its busiest ports. Blessed with two foundations that contribute generously to a quality of life unmatched in small-town rural America. The list goes on and on. We have too many ingredients for success to tolerate failure or mediocrity.

In building a new identity, let us recognize that there are no shortcuts. Our community must resist the temptation to seek them. Amid the necessary urgency to create new jobs, we must not abandon our resolve to forcefully address our problems. They are substantial but conquerable. Prospective employers aren’t looking for perfection when they seek out a place to create new jobs. They are looking for a community that’s on the ball, that meets its challenges head on and never concedes defeat.

We must return our public schools to the stature they once enjoyed and produce a qualified future workforce. We must create a business-friendly climate that invites economic investment rather than stymies it. We must stamp out drug- and gang-related crime. We must cooperate as a city and county and, where appropriate, with our neighbors in Isle of Wight to make delivery of government services more efficient and cost-effective.

Above all, let us turn for solutions to our best and most important resource: our people. Time and again over the past century-plus, our best success stories — economic and otherwise — have come from within. There’s nothing wrong with chasing smokestacks from elsewhere, but the lesson of International Paper is that they surely will leave us one day. The better, more secure course is to tap the brainpower, the ingenuity and, most important, the loyalty of the thousands who live here, love this community and have no plans to leave.