The Valdosta Daily Times
When a little known online publication publishes a story as sensational as “America’s Poorest Cities,” it’s sure to garner attention on the news-hungry Internet. Sure enough, at least a dozen news sites picked up some or all of the story, which shows Valdosta as the third poorest city in the country. The top 2 were from Texas, and Albany was number four.
How did the writers reach this conclusion? Based on census data, based on Metropolitan Statistical Area status, and based on one primary criteria: household income. They threw in tidbits about the high number of unemployed, without bothering to mention that their base number also included the entire population, meaning children under age 16. The publication’s editors pointed out strenuously when contacted that the story is the writer’s opinion and interpretation, which doesn’t add much to their credibility.
However, getting back to the point raised in the story, it’s a relevant topic. When looking at census data, based on the entire MSA — Lowndes, Echols, Lanier and Brooks counties — we are in one of the poorest in the country. That doesn’t mean Valdosta is one of the poorest cities, as all cities are not included in this story’s sampling.
Now that the world wide web has broadcast this story, what can be done locally to combat this image? And what are the various entities involved in job and business recruitment, i.e. the Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Authority primarily, doing to fix the underlying problem — low household income and the high percentage of individuals living below the poverty line.
Valdosta can attract retailers. But can Valdosta step it up and attract larger industries offering high paying jobs? Has the community turned away from what made this a successful, viable up and comer in the state, namely manufacturing and agriculture? These industries sustained Valdosta for many years and provided good, well paying, solid blue collar and middle income jobs. Educational opportunities are far greater today, there are more high school, tech and college graduates in the area than ever, and blaming the quality of the work force is starting to lose its luster as a viable excuse for not bringing in industry. We have the land, we have the workers, we have the infrastructure and we have a great location with a good quality of life.
Perhaps the community leadership should focus on the assets that are already here and less on what’s not. Then maybe the next time a story like this appears on the Internet, Valdosta won’t be cast in such a poor light.