It’s true: Can’t drown a great town

Published 3:13 pm Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tis the season for making lists of the things we’re thankful for, and I’ve decided that one of the things I’m most thankful for this year is the spirit of resiliency in this community.

We’ve been through a lot the last year. Hell, we’ve been through a lot the last 10 years. First, the mill was sold. Then we had a 100-year flood. Next we learned what an OLF was. Then we had another 100-year flood. The prison closed down. The mill closed down.

All in all, it’s been a pretty tough decade.

You know how, if you read it on a bumper sticker or on the Internet, it must be true? Well as it turns out, you actually can’t drown a great town.

Because while our rivers have occasionally left their banks, and some of our jobs left for Brazil, and while change has become the new constant, one thing that has remained intact is the spirit of resiliency embodied in those who make up this great community.

It’s true. And it’s true because of the spirit of resiliency that is embodied in those of you who are dedicated to the success and vibrancy of our community.

It’s true because of organizations like the Franklin-Southampton County Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Franklin Association and the dozens upon dozens of other civic groups made up of people who are passionate about this place and who are committed to see that it not only survives, but also thrives.

Over the last month, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with business owners about the health of their businesses. And while everyone is experiencing varying levels of post-mill success challenges, most have expressed similar sentiments — that given all we’ve been through, especially in the last year or so, things really aren’t so bad.

They say sales may be down, but the doors aren’t closed. Employees’ hours have been cut back, but that beats layoffs. We don’t yet have a new tenant at the IP facility, but new businesses are coming into the community and investing.

When you stop and think about it, they’re right. The doomsday scenarios many predicted, prompted by the mill announcement 13 months ago, just haven’t come true. (And yes, I too was fairly pessimistic in the early days.)

But think about it…a new retailer has moved into town and brought with them jobs and money to spend on local contractors for a big construction project. Two of our local church congregations have raised enough private capital to invest heavily in new facilities to accommodate their growth, again employing local contractors for a significant portion of the work.

And we’ve actually witnessed a business relocate from Armory Drive to (gasp!) downtown Franklin, with tremendous early results.

Now, all that isn’t to say we don’t have a long way to go, because we do.

We need more jobs, and we needed them by yesterday. We need to diversify the components of our economy and bring in and internally develop new industries.

We badly need new revenue so we can invest in quality infrastructure, specifically a quality public school system, to prepare for the growth we will certainly see in the future as Hampton Roads continues to develop westward.

But all things considered, we’re in pretty good shape. And so during this season of giving thanks, when we look around and count our blessings, I find myself thankful for those of you who didn’t give up on our community, who believe we will not only survive but also succeed. The spirit of resilience is embodied in you.

And that is why, as the bumper sticker says, you can’t drown a great town.