Friday, July 27, 2007

Growing Again [CCR]

Last week while I wandered around Rutherford County, Tennessee looking for a house the people back in Ohio got a bit of bad news. Another big box store chain decided it might be cheaper to find their supply of garden hose overseas and hundreds of people lost their lifetime jobs. These individuals, some with twenty years at the facility, are now forced to face the job market and learn how the world has changed. For me the change seems more endangering here in Ohio now than it would back home.

Fifty years ago many folks back home looked north for the prospects of a good job. The South slowly recovered from the Great Depression, even with the boost provided by TVA. Many of my aunts and uncles, along with my parents, sought either permanent or temporary employment in Ohio or Illinois. Some stayed for years while others settled back home as industry built in Colbert County. Companies such as Ford, Union Carbide, and Reynolds brought the families back together as industry expanded.

While I didn’t see the environment fifty years ago, I did see the result of the expansion in The Shoals. I remember seeing the green buses that carried employees to the expansive Reynolds facilities. Industry slowly absorbed the population with a growing hunger for labor and the economy boomed with crowded downtown streets and the newly built Southgate Mall. Southern Railway built one of the most modern rail classification yards in the world with many new innovations.

My memory has me believe those booming years probably peaked some time just before I left home. Maybe my absence gave changes more distinction on my visits home. I sadly watched as several industries withdrew entirely from the region while others downsized. But we persevered.

In contrast to the bad news for the garden hose plant in Ohio, I read the exciting news for my family and friends back home. It seems more industry is focusing on our area. After receiving several new industrial residents such as SCA, our Canadian neighbors are building a large manufacturing facility in Barton. Change is inevitable, but change in Barton is amazing. The old railroad depot has been gone many years. The gas stations and food establishments on the old highway are long gone. Children on the school playground are only heard in whispering echoes of the past. Yet enthusiasm is in the air with new facilities, new jobs, and new faces.

Today modern manufacturing is expanding and don’t blink, you actually did see an overpass in the little community. Once more people are speaking of economic prosperity and the cycle is pushing upward again. As the opulence of Barton gains new roots within the industrial park we are reminded of the mighty Mountain Mills that once reigned supreme there.

The story doesn’t end in this quaint West Colbert County community. Rather Barton is a summary chapter in the prosperity that faces our hometown. People are discovering that our corner of Alabama, rich in history and heritage, is also full of hospitality. Once again people from all over the world are discovering the charmed life in the gentle foothills and rolling valley along the banks of the mighty Tennessee River. Let’s welcome our new neighbors with open arms and prove they are the early arrivers to discover the good life in Northwest Alabama.