Georgia: Somewhere Between Koinonia and “The City Too Busy To Hate”

I am somewhere firmly in the middle.

Growing up in the bustling metropolis of Social Circle, Georgia was idyllic.  I grew up on a farm where the gravel meets a road named after a Primitive Baptist Church.  My parents believed very deeply in education as a key to my future success, and whereas my clothes and toys may have been limited by budget, my parents never allowed my love of books to be.  The problem with rearing me was that I always asked questions and wanted to understand the hows and whys of things.  My mother is a spitfire optimist who fiercely believes in the potential of all children, especially her own precocious one.  When she hears of something new, she often wishes to try it, much to my father’s consternation.  In me this fostered a love of innovation and an innate curiosity about whether a different method might be more effective.  My father is a resolute pessimist who enjoys stories of yesteryear, traditions, and the quality of developed ritual.  From him my love of folklore, politics, and ambition in business was cultivated.  He is the steady; she is wide open.  As I have aged, I am a strong representation of both and, like my geographical location, I am caught somewhere in the middle of hope and reluctance.

Growing up, all I wanted to do was to get out of Walton County and move to the big city.  For a little girl from a small town, the King and Queen buildings of Atlanta seemed to hold potential and promise of the theater, symphony, and things far more exciting than I would ever find at home.  At the time, they seemed so far away from the good-‘ol boy system that exists in small towns.  Funny that now I find myself driving back to the quiet trails of my hometown to get lost where there is no cell reception and city lights.  Sometimes, the city’s constant speed is overwhelming and the rhythm of cicadas just beyond the Blue Willow Inn is just the symphony I need.  This duality can be found in many across the South-we all come from a smaller town of sorts, yet want something bigger, more than what our roots offer.

Most people outside of the state think of Atlanta as resting in the center.  Instead, it rests in north Georgia, along with the Classic City and my hometown.  Most people group Georgians together.  Yet I would assert we all have our own unique identities, slightly different accents and rituals.  My friends from the low country gather their families around low country boils in their light sundresses and madras shorts.  Friends from south Georgia are truly some of the most giving and welcoming of Georgians, with accents that drip like syrup and a part in the civil rights movement few remember.  Native Atlantans have a clip to their accent, are much more efficient, and like any city dweller, know how to navigate big crowds and big business.  Augustans are more patrician, Macon is the epitome of Southern Gothic, all beauty and grotesque intertwined.  Athens is the Southern fried, hippie love-child of Oconee County and Atlantan families- all rebel yell on Saturdays in the fall with an eye toward the next big thing in music.

Somewhere I’m caught both mentally and geographically in the middle of Koinonia Farms and the city “too busy to hate”. 

What I have begun to realize now is that I am not alone.  There are many Georgians like me who have chosen to stay in the state yet run their own businesses from their homes.  Hell, even Koinonia Farm sells its nuts online!  Georgia has long oscillated between global business and prideful local town identity.  We have a long history of dragging our feet into innovation.  In some ways, this is wise to avoid pitfalls.  We tend to prefer to benefit from the lessons of other states’ best practices.  Yet, I have begun to wonder what Georgia will look like as we consider policies addressing a workforce that is moving to more home-based businesses, where smaller, local proprietors sell their products more via the web and less via a store-front.  So to, long gone are the days of pensions, regular 9-5 days, and a job that doesn’t require a cell phone.  Invest Georgia has named an investment consultant and I hope to see this initiative contribute to the growth of Georgia’s economy and the growing number of small businesses our state fosters.  Start-ups and small businesses tend to fit national trends in the Millennial generation, one that doesn’t always own a car, a home or watch TV.  How will we market our state to this demographic?  As one who is part of this generation, I would say we have plenty of room for improvement.

When I visit Augusta and Decatur, I use their public WiFi while sitting in New Moon and Java Monkey.  Yet whatever hope for modernity dwindles when I step into the Capitol building and recognize that Senate meetings are never live streamed- not because the building is not equipped, but because the Senate seems to enjoy shrouding itself in the cloaks of 1985.  I take great pride in Atlanta’s part in the on-going struggle for civil rights, yet continue to flinch as the headlines reflect parts of our population that hasn’t moved much beyond the 1860s.  Congrats Georgia, we made the WSJ.  Unfortunately, it was for a faction of our community that most of us tend to regard as those weird relatives we put out on the front porch with a cocktail.  Alas, with the exception of John Lewis, we do not have leaders who have proactively addressed this issue.

I get it.  It’s hard to construct a comprehensive image of a state.

However, in politics, if you aren’t proactively messaging, then someone is speaking for you.  In my humble opinion, this makes our state look directionless and divided by factions-not one in which a business would wish to open its doors.  Our Governor is making bold strides in education reform, and I hope to see that bear fruit.  Long gone are the days where being uneducated yet with a good work ethic would get you anywhere.  Thus while many Georgians share the reluctance of my father, others around us are not leaving much chance for dragging our feet.  Many folks here revel in the thought that we are still a largely agriculturally based state made up of small businesses and small towns.  That’s true, yet even the farmers have recognized the importance of technology to grow their industry.

Isn’t it time Georgia stops shifting our feet and lead? 

If your next question is “how?” or “in what way?” I have a few ideas…

Before Georgia became THE national producer of blueberries, we had to do a little research.  Thanks to Representative Jack Kingston, Georgia received money to investigate into what its climate and soil could produce-and produce competitively.  Why not go back to the drawing board?  We have some fantastic research entities here in the state- why not put them to use finding out what Georgia is doing and doing better than others?  We have the world’s busiest airport, a competitive port business, a growing film industry, we hold the CDC, and we are quickly becoming the Healthcare IT capital of the nation.  Would it really be difficult to collect some data from these areas to see what we could be doing better?  IMHO, this sort of soul searching could help determine our next steps in business and political direction.

Meanwhile, Georgia is stuck in the middle, waiting for others to construct our identity and tell us in what direction we should be moving-reliving our past or actively engaging the future.

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