Brain Drain: The Southern Response to Ed and Business Atrophy

The challenge of brain drain has existed for years in areas around the nation.  The South is no different, although perhaps more exaggerated and slower to respond.  As I grew up in Social Circle, all I wanted to do was get the hell out of my small town and find a job, home, and surroundings that seemed to fit me more than from whence I came.  Many college-age kids and younger are the same.  This is not to say I do not deeply love Walton County (God’s country) and recognize the idyllic childhood I had there.  I grew up recognizing I was a square peg in a round hole, and I felt like an escape would provide the upward mobility I sought while not interfering with/ ruffling the feathers of those within the cultural climate I was reared.  The early recognition that I was a bit different forced me to reconcile that staying in my small town would mean a constant outsider feeling accompanied with a general uphill battle for any of my ideas and presence in certain circles.  So like a number of youth across the nation, I left and come back for family visits, events of friends who stayed behind and not much else.  I wait with baited breath for Walton County’s prosperity and commercial growth.  I sing its praises as often as I am able and I encourage as many to move there as possible, yet the struggle to be accepted as I am (more progressive, assertive, and business oriented) will always halt any dreams of returning.

But what if an entire generation chooses to leave their home towns?  What if few decide to come back?  What happens to the rural small towns they leave and how do those towns sustain themselves over time?  What happens when my generation reverses white flight and we all move back into urban areas?

You may have noticed it in your own town and among your own neighbors.  My generation has little patience for lack of amenities and we frankly do not comprehend how you work or live without reliable WiFi.  This isn’t unique to a certain area of the Southeast.  This is representative of a larger generational shift across the nation.  The opportunity to be something other than someone’s child has its own draw, and readily available choices of higher paying jobs is incredibly seductive.

In the last six months I have engaged in a leadership class called Georgia Forward.  Initially a nonprofit offshoot from Central Atlanta Progress, this organization partners with cities around Georgia to produce solutions to the local community’s challenges.  These challenges are identified by a steering committee of local officials (namely the local Chamber, from what I can tell), and are then posed in the form of questions to the group of fifty class members, a third of which are locals.

The area to which my class was partnered is Troup County.  Rich in textile history and manufacturing industry jobs, Troup County is an ideal location for Georgians to stake their claim and build their dreams.  Yet the cities of LaGrange, West Point, and Hogansville are finding it challenging to attract and retain young talent.  With little to no quality of place attributes (nightlife, retail establishments, civic organizations), I found myself both very familiar with and appallingly shocked as to why the residents could not recognize their own challenges.   The juxtaposition of those who enjoy the non-urban lifestyle that Troup County offers is in direct contrast to the preferences of those they wish to attract and retain.

This is not new, or foreign to me.  It is becoming so damn common across Georgia I often wish to beat my head against the wall in frustration.  I have seen this manifest in Macon, Augusta, Monroe, on recent visits to Americus, Albany, and certainly in my hometown of Social Circle.  There is a generational difference that contributes to the challenge, but also an ever-present racial one, and at its roots, economic.

I did not think of it as a generational problem across the nation until I recently finished the memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.  The book was so incredibly gripping- painfully so at times.  The tome spoke such truth to the life I have known here where, albeit less violence and drugs as represented in Vance’s life, my own experience knows well the depth of family loyalty, the need for escaping one’s hometown, and the ties that forever bind us by the heartstrings to the challenges we try to leave behind. Continue reading “Brain Drain: The Southern Response to Ed and Business Atrophy”

ATL Identity: Business, Trade, and Transportation

On a recent trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, I had the opportunity to take in the city’s art and restaurant scene, which I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone for a weekend.  More than just giving me loads of inspiration, the visit called me to reflect/question how a city’s identity is constructed.  Does the run of the mill Jane Smith typically reflect more on the history of a city or the trends of the present before she visits?  And what draws people to each city?  What makes them move there?  What makes them stay?  What drives them away?  Me?  I like low taxes and a great art scene.  I like walkability and commerce.  Others like quiet and quaint, picturesque views and still more love the hustle and bustle of of big city life.  As I focused my lens on Charlotte, I tried to think how my own city projects itself to the world.

Atlanta-rolling-1871Atlanta has a rich history, long before rising from the ashes of the Civil War.  My city, named Terminus, for its rail identity was one that sprang up from necessity of business, trade, and transportation.  Long before she ever became the Gateway to the South, Atlanta was buzzing with people moving to and fro, selling their wares and has always had a more transient population as a result.  Locals here know there are few true “native” Atlantans, as most Georgians coming from small towns move here to either try their hand at making it “big” in the “big city” or to escape the narrowness of living in a small town straight out of Faulkner.  My story was similar: farm girl grows up in Social Circle.  Studies hard in small town and attends the women’s’ college (Agnes Scott College) in small town close to bigger city.

I always like to ask people I meet why they moved here.  I know why I did, but I assume different strokes for different folks.  The resounding answer I tend to get is for “jobs” and the opportunity for upward mobility.  Is this legacy of a business oriented city still true?  Are we really a city that allows outsiders to come in and pull themselves up by the bootstraps to “make it”?  If so, how are we continuing to foster that image and promote growing business?

Atlanta has done a great job of promoting itself as a city “too busy to hate” and a place whose Mayor tries to be responsive to his business community.  Most recently, Mayor Reed had his Bobby Kennedy moment in the spot light as he tried to calm the #BlackLivesMatter movement protests in the streets.  In many ways, he navigated the storm well, with respect for the protestors and the blue line.  The moment Reed welcomed peaceful protests in the streets of Atlanta while asking them to stay out of the expressway was a moment I was truly proud of him!  I wish more people in the nation had the opportunity to see that side of our city.  In a city with a black mayor, a black city council, county commission and school board, we know from the bottom to the top that #blacklivesmatter here.

Mountaintop moments did not end in Atlanta with MLK, Jr. Continue reading “ATL Identity: Business, Trade, and Transportation”

“So…What do you do?”

On a personal note….

I haven’t written in some months due to the fact that life got in the way.  An engagement, a house renovation, a move that combined two households, a death of a grandfather, a near death and hospitalization of a grandmother, identity theft, vehicle theft, and loss of health insurance will do that to a woman….even Steel Magnolias bruise and bend.  Yet I am consistently like a bad penny: I just keep turning up and will continue to offer my opinions (for whatever they are worth to others) for as long as I am able.  I intend to spend the next little bit writing through all of the topics I have wanted to cover and yet did not have the time to do so in the last few months, so bear with me as I bear witness and I hope that I can offer insight/ explanation as we go along together.

And now back to the reason you’re here….

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“What do you do?”

People ask this of one another because we search for common ground and for safe topics in small talk.  Alas, my job description usually isn’t anything like that.  People see the term “political consultant” and “lobbyist” as a loaded gun, aimed at their rights, their perceptions of how things should be, or they see me as some sort of elite class.

I repeatedly have to tell them it’s really not anything remotely like what you see on House of Cards. 

I am sincerely not powerful and my work is more on the side of being kind to everyone- even when they are not kind to me rather than passionately debating legislators or playing puppet master behind the scenes.  I am not debating that the Remy Denton types of lobbyists exist, I am just here to tell you: that isn’t me.

I typically answer that question with a shoulder shrug and the factual statement, “I talk to people.”  Many times before I have also asserted that I think a monkey could do my job.  To be honest, there are probably primates that are more fully functioning than a LOT of people in their jobs, but I digress…Now that I have had the fortune of meeting a number of people who are very book-smart but have zero ability to communicate effectively nor manage a filter on themselves, I have come to value my own diplomacy skills a bit better.  Not everyone can take rejection well, nor know they are being purposefully left out of conversations and still try to make a difference.

I would say these are my greatest gifts. 

Hearing “no” is simply part of the process.  Brush it off.  The more important question is always, “what will get you to “yes”?” Continue reading ““So…What do you do?””

Georgia: Filling the Gaps

Gap-AnalysisAfter a weekend of football, and Miss Georgia taking the crown for Miss America, it would be my guess folks around the nation are wondering what other successes and accolades may come from the peach state?  For me, I hope our future is found in growing business and a more developed economy, with meaningful employment for Georgians.  Yet, I cannot help but notice there are some noticeable gaps still linger.  These gaps are not ones that cannot be reconciled, but ones that must be addressed before Georgia is going to be placed on another tier in the marketplace.  Many Georgians speak lovingly of farm life, and of agriculturally based, small town economies.  Yet, if there is one thing I know of growing up on a farm in a small town, I know that you are always busy- there is compelling work to be done for maintenance, repair, and to keep the farm moving forward.

So what might Georgia do next? Continue reading “Georgia: Filling the Gaps”

Alpharetta: THE City for Female Entrepreneurs

wemadethat_630x420-300x200I love Georgia, business, and promoting women.  So when I see a headline that embraces all three- I’m tickled pink!  It would seem that Alpharetta has been named by Goodcall.com as THE city in the US for female entrepreneurs.  Here’s the full article regarding the stats and other cities that made the top ten. Continue reading “Alpharetta: THE City for Female Entrepreneurs”