At the last media meeting with county manager Carl Classen, I handed him a copy of the Rolling Stone Magazine article on Rutherfordton. When I first heard of the existence of this article, I was impressed. Rutherfordton? In Rolling Stone magazine?
Perspective is a valuable tool. Forty years ago according to this article, there were concerns over the decimation of the textile industry within the county. The state of education was abysmal as many simply expected to do the rote labor at the mills.
A few idealistic souls supported integration. Women’s liberation demanded access to jobs and equal pay. The hippies wanted peace and love for everyone and left for college. The world could be changed.
Forty years later the state of the county address is:
a) little industry recovery for the county since the textile mills closed. The real estate bubble as a second home retirement community burst and scattered foreclosures, defaults, and mortgage fraud among the community.
b) education levels are still below par. Alternatives to college liberal arts degrees have vanished along with vocational schools
c) segregation may be reduced, but integration without consideration of race and color has not been realized. Just look at the makeup of the elected officials and governing bodies.
d) peace and love is replaced with internet games, facebook friendships, and worries about retirement incomes and medical bills.
What has changed? The STEP program is one of many that hopes to spur economic prosperity. At the very least it makes the citizens look at what is going on in this town. A few years ago, there was an unveiling of the Master Plan. A lot of work and planning went into its development and yet for the last few years it has sat on a shelf in Town Hall. Why was Rutherford accepted for this STEP program now? Perhaps these are a few of the considerations.
1) Main Street a.k.a. Hwy 221 is soon going to be bypassed by a better road that diverts traffic from passage through Rutherfordton. While many have considered the effect on homes being bought up, few are looking far enough ahead to see the economic impact of less traffic through the town.
2) Parking is an issue. While many curse court days when everyone is searching for parking for court appearances, these are the same people who support our restaurants, hardware stores, and professional services. After being in both Greenville and Hendersonville this past week, their downtowns have parking issues as well. They are easily overcome by those who WANT to shop downtown. Merchants in both places have attractive window displays, open doors to entice people in and sidewalk benchs. There was a welcoming feeling there.
3) Empty buildings are not only an eyesore but a testament to the failure of previous attempts to make a living in downtown Rutherfordton. Rundown houses on Main and Court Streets leave the impression that the people have nothing left for self preservation and care.
4) The good old boy mill network still exists. Jobs are handed over to the person you go to church with or worked alongside in the mills. Young people leave for better job opportunities and education for other parts of the state if they are able. The same people keep doing the same things and they wonder why nothing changes. Reach out to all citizens.
5) Rutherford County was the number one county for meth production a few years back. So while our terrain is not suitable for easy high speed internet access, it is a good one for growing weeds and producing drugs. We have a mighty fine airport.
There are challenges in every movement. Obstacles must be overcome and minds must change. People will create change and not just talk about it. Or else, my pitch for a followup article in Rolling Stone may be titled “Rutherfordton-still slowly dying.”