January 23, 2014

The bottom line

January 23, 2014 The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — An editorial Sunday in the Times posed the question that if two national chains both left town at the same time, keeping other locations in Georgia open, then perhaps it’s a symptom of a larger problem.

Sales volume was the reason given for one of the closings, so the Times speculated that perhaps the lack of job growth in the area has something to do with the lack of growth or reduction in sales for other business sectors. No entity, government or otherwise, was called out or named in the editorial, and since Sunday, the Times has received an outpouring of support for the message, which called for action, not more studies.

Members of the Industrial Authority took the editorial personally, and it was pointed out to the Times that they’ve created 330 jobs by helping existing industries expand or by convincing them not to close. When those jobs are broken down, they belong to Home Depot’s distribution center and Express Scripts, which hired 130 local individuals to work from home on the telephone for customer service in a virtual call center type operation. The third was Regal Marine, which proudly launched their company in Valdosta in 2002 and at one point, was up to over 300 jobs and is now down to 75, which the Authority helped to retain.

When asked about the number of jobs lost in 2013, all the Authority provided were unemployment statistics.

In the last three years, the Authority has brought in the virtual call center, bought more land for industrial parks, helped an existing industry expand its workforce and helped another existing industry build a warehouse operation. In the same time, jobs have been lost due to downsizing, layoffs and closures.

If national chain restaurants are closing due to lack of sales, there is obviously an issue, and new projects announced which would total fewer than 100 jobs created is not going to turn the economic tide in Valdosta.

The newspaper is trying to get local leaders to work together in an honest appraisal of the issue and recognize that the economy has not recovered in terms of real dollars that are reflected in a business’ cash register, not hypothetical ones reflected on a chart.

No amount of studies or committee discussions, no amount of attacking the newspaper and not the problem, is putting people to work. Many have tried to simply gloss over local economic woes, pretending they don’t exist. But jobs are scarce, hiring is down, no new industry large enough to compensate for the loss has been recruited, and the bottom line is, business owners are suffering.

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