Encouraging news

Published 10:08 am Saturday, September 4, 2010

Jobs are scarce, and the real estate market remains in a funk, but one important piece of Franklin’s economy remains strong.

Taxable sales — the best barometer of a community’s retail and service economy — rose 2 percent in April, May and June compared with the same quarter in 2009, according to the Virginia Department of Taxation. That’s the same pace at which taxable sales grew statewide. In other words, Franklin’s retail economy is just as healthy as Richmond’s, metropolitan Hampton Roads’ and Northern Virginia’s.

That’s especially impressive given the closure of International Paper Co.’s Franklin mill during the same quarter and the resulting loss of jobs for the consumers whose purchases are taxed.

Continued investment in Franklin’s economy by business owners likewise is encouraging.

Tractor Supply Co., a national retailer of farm supplies, plowed ahead with construction of a store on Armory Drive, despite the paper mill’s closure. The store is expected to open next month on the lot next to Farm Fresh.

Liz Britt chose the vacant Parker Drug building on Main Street for expansion of her catering and gourmet pecan business, giving downtown a much-needed shot in the arm.

Chuck Guynn, whose Franklin Recycling and Disposal has been a long underappreciated contributor to the local economy, stepped in at the 11th hour to purchase Franklin Bowling Center and keep it operational. A bowling alley might seem insignificant in the larger economy, but it is an important entertainment outlet and quality-of-life enhancer. Guynn understands that, but he’s also a smart businessman who wouldn’t buy the bowling alley if he didn’t have confidence in the community’s ability to sustain it and make it profitable.

None of the above sugarcoats the economic challenges we face as a community. Statistics are of little comfort for one who needs a job or whose home is being foreclosed on. Severance pay received by displaced IP workers has helped prop up retail spending since the mill closure but will dry up in the months ahead. Those who have not found jobs will have to curtail spending in order to make ends meet.

Yet, the positive signs in the retail and service economies remind us that not all is lost economically — that Franklin remains a viable center of commerce and is strong enough to weather the trauma of the mill closure and its lingering effects.

Labor Day, a holiday that pays tribute to the workers who keep our economy humming, seems an appropriate time to look on the bright side and ponder a Franklin that will endure its current challenges and ultimately prevail.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.