We have just finished the decade of the 20-teens. It was a decade that began in misery and in many ways, also ended in misery.
But not for the same reasons.
A decade ago, the local community was mired in a deep, relentless recession. Houses were being foreclosed on in record numbers. The local construction industry was at a standstill. Local governments were mired in red ink. Unemployment was high. Banks were closing.
Today, the economy has recovered from that deep downturn. Growth is exploding across Jackson County and the surrounding communities. Construction is back with a number of major projects being built.
When the recession first hit in 2008, local governments were slow to respond. Nobody expected the downturn to last very long, so local governments didn't begin making any cost cuts until late 2010, long after their resources had been drained. Government layoffs were widespread as local tax digests went down for the first time in decades. A decade later, it's difficult to remember just how depressed the local economy was in 2010.
Today, local governments are flush with money. Additional employees are being hired and major capital projects are in the works. The lights that were turned off in 2010 have been turned back on. (Except for the state government, which is in a financial hole due to political considerations overriding common sense.)
But some things never change. In 2010, like 2020, the City of Hoschton was in the spotlight just as it is today. Here's what this newspaper wrote in 2010 among its goals for that year:
Hoschton needs to decide its future. The town has been struggling for several years from poor leadership and fiscal mismanagement. It does not have the financial resources to do everything and like many small towns, has taken a hit during the economic downturn. The town has put off making tough decisions for years; now with a new mayor and council, maybe that won’t be delayed any longer.
We could say almost the same thing today, a decade later.
In 2010, we also called for new leadership in the Jackson County School System. Since then, the system has gained new leaders and greatly strengthened its administrative staff, the real backbone of the system. At the BOE level, the system has had changes as well, although with three relatively new members, the board is still adjusting and finding its way.
Still, the system has cleared some major hurdles over the last decade, getting its financial house in order and expanding its schools to accommodate a massive amount of residential growth.
But the decade ends a little like it began. Although we're not in an economic recession, there is a deep undercurrent of unrest in the country and by extension, the local community.
Many people are doing well economically, but many are not. Poverty and cultural dysfunction with massive amounts of drug abuse and family violence are pervasive in the county. We are not breaking the cycle and helping people elevate their lives out of those swamps. The demand on public resources is growing at the same time the political will to provide it has weakened.
So what will the next decade bring?
A good theme would be to always expect the unexpected. We can't foresee everything that might happen and there are a lot of issues that are out of local control. The recession that hurt the county in 2010 wasn't created locally, but was perhaps made worse here by some poor decisions.
Likewise, what we see in 2020 could radically change in the next 10 years.
Here are a few thoughts:
• The economic boom probably won't last another decade. The economy is ready for a correction and slowdown; booms never lasts forever. The problem is, the tools used in 2010 to help pull the nation out of recession are largely gone, as is the political will. Jackson County is hyper-dependent on construction as a key part of its economy. Any construction slow down in the next decade could have deep effects here.
• 2020 is an election year for many local county offices. Changes in political leadership could have an impact on the county, depending on the dynamics of those elections. Still, I don't expect to see a major local election cycle until 2024.
• That won't be the case for national elections where 2020 will be the most hyper-partisan election since 1860. That national tone — divisive, partisan and full of fear and rage — will undoubtedly filter down into local debates. Today's political discourse is terrible as people create their own reality with distorted social media and pandering propaganda. Truth has died in America; people only want what fuels their biases. It's likely this will get worse in the coming decade.
• One of the key issues in the next year or two will be the fate of the massive SK plant in Commerce. Billions of dollars are at stake here and for the electric vehicle market. If ongoing lawsuits go against SK, the Commerce plant might become a bust. If SK prevails, infighting over the tax funds could split the county into old, warring factions.
• Jackson County is clearly a center for distribution centers and warehouses. This is the next economic base for the county, the cycle that is replacing the old textile industry and before that, agriculture. But Jackson isn't the only player in the game for distribution centers in the Southeast and as that part of the economy matures, landing big distribution centers will be more difficult. Jackson has a very good location for such businesses, but is lacking in other areas, such as a supply of skilled workers.
• In that regard, education will be critical in the 2020s. The new county Empower College and Career Academy will open in 2021. It could have a major impact on economic development, but it could also get lost if state funding and whims shift. By 2030, we should have a pretty good idea about how that is working.
• There will be an increasing divide in the county between those moving here and old-timers. The two factions largely have different ideas of community needs. Tensions will grow as the pressures mount. Anti-growth advocacy will grow and at some point, be the major force in local political decisions. At the same time, expectations of local government services will also grow, putting pressure on governments to deliver more. An increasing base of retirees in the county could set up a lot of tension between that group and young families about who should pay for what services.