It’s an opportunity –John S. Quarterman

“Like a burned-over longleaf pine, we can come back from this recession greener than ever, if we choose wisely.”

Here is my response to James R. Wright’s questions about jobs and priorities. -jsq

It’s an opportunity for those of us who are not currently searching for our next meal to help those who need jobs, and thereby to help ourselves, so they don’t turn to crime. Like a burned-over longleaf pine, we can come back from this recession greener than ever, if we choose wisely.

Switchgrass seemed like a good idea five or ten years ago, but there is still no market for it.

Meanwhile, local and organic agriculture is booming, and continued to boom right through the recession.

Not just strictly organic by Georgia’s ridiculously restrictive standards for that, but also less pesticides for healthier foods, pioneered as nearby as Tifton. That’s two markets: one for farmers, stores, and farmers’ markets in growing and distributing healthy food, and one for local banks in financing farmers converting from their overlarge pesticide spraying machinery to plows and cultivators.

Similarly, biomass may have seemed like a good idea years ago, but with Adage backing out of both of its Florida biomass plants just across the state line, having never built any such plant ever, the biomass boom never happened.

Meanwhile, our own Wesley Langdale has demonstrated to the state that

Georgia’s forests are worth far more ($37 billion a year) in their ecological benefits (clean air, clean water, less floods) than the entire traditional timber industry ($28 billion a year).

Plus there are new opportunities in carbon trading, reforestation, hunting, fishing, and ecotourism.

Meanwhile, solar is the fastest growing industry worldwide, bar none.

Even though Georgia lost the second Suniva plant to Saginaw, Michigan, we gained the MAGE SOLAR plant in Dublin.

Come to Lowndes High this afternoon at 4PM to hear about MAGE SOLAR.

Right here in the Azalea City Mayor Fretti helped break ground for the Wiregrass Solar plant only a couple of months ago. Then Hannah Solar demonstrated that you can install a 350 kilowatt solar plant in a week.

Col. Ricketts told the Industrial Authority months ago that that solar plant could be expanded in two directions. Let’s do that, and have a multi-megawatt solar plant right here in Lowndes County!

Speaking of Lowndes County, farmers could put solar on their barn and house roofs, reducing their electrical bills. They could even dedicate a few acres to solar panels, making a profit selling back to the grid, without any need to build new power lines.

At least three companies right here in Lowndes County install solar electricity and hot water. They could install a lot of MAGE and Suniva panels throughout south Georgia. The big impediment is the up front cost, even after state and federal tax rebates. Here’s an opportunity for local banks to get into the act by financing that. Mary Gooding says the Industrial Authority is about industry. Well, it’s not just about that, but here’s an industry that Valdosta and Lowndes County could lead for south Georgia.

Similarly, private prisons may sound like a good idea when pitched by slick Nashville salesmen. But according to a study of counties in New York state that have private prisons versus those that don’t, the counties with the prisons did no better on unemployment than those that do, during economic good times, downturns, and recoveries.

Private prisons don’t add jobs: the people who work there don’t like to live next to them, and prisoners are the lowest-paid possible labor, competing with local labor, and often with skilled labor.

Plus at least three national churches say locking people up for private profit (from our tax money) is a bad idea that should be abandoned.

Texas realized several years ago that it couldn’t afford to keep locking up more people, and turned to half-way houses, education, and rehabilitation. There’s a local industry we could grow! What happened to CHANCE? Did it ever get funded? If not, why not fund that with our tax dollars, instead of a private prison?

Meanwhile, what is booming right here in Lowndes County is education. Wiregrass Tech is the fastest growing technical college of its size in the country. VSU continues to boom, and I hear Dr. Schloss wants to turn it into a research university.

But students and professors and researchers aren’t going to want to come to a place that is known for polluting biomass and private prisons. You may have noticed some of them demonstrating outside City Hall recently, along with people from the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed biomass site, in among the largest and most likely the most diverse demonstrations ever seen in this county.

Myrna Ballard and the Chamber of Commerce want to attract knowledge-based jobs. Well, the creative people we need to attract and educate right here for such jobs aren’t going to want to live in a place known for polluting industry and private prisons.

Let’s stop trying to import failed industries. Let’s show some leadership and grow real industries:

  • local and organic food,
  • carbon trading and reforestation,
  • solar installation, production, and manufacturing,
  • prison rehabilitation,
  • and education.

These are industries that will provide jobs for local people, skilled and unskilled, from the farm to the research laboratory.

Let’s see solar panels on tobacco warehouses in Hahira, on Valdosta City Hall, on the new county palace, and on parking lots at VSU, installed by local companies, staffed by people trained at Wiregrass Tech, eating local food sold through local stores and farmers’ markets.

Let’s make south Georgia a place we can all be proud of.

It’s an opportunity. One might even say that for those who want to be leaders of the community that it’s a responsiblity.

John S. Quarterman

Update 9:22 PM 29 March 2011: unburied the lede.

One thought on “It’s an opportunity –John S. Quarterman

  1. Jim Parker

    Excellent response, John! Councilman Wright and the rest of the VCC, along with our entire community, would do well to heed your suggestions.

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