DAWSON, GEORGIA –Barney Parnacott’s job as city manager of Dawson, Georgia is growing harder.
Why? Because industry (which means jobs) around the nation has begun to demand major financial favors to come to town.
Both the state and federal governments have cut back sharply on the funds they now make available to small cities. The state of Georgia has its own financial challenges, Parnacott explains.
However, there also is a saying that Georgia consists of two states – Atlanta and all the rest. Atlanta gets the bulk of the available money and the small towns largely must fend for themselves.
Our own observations indicate that this problem exists in many states where there is one or two major cities and dozens of small towns,
Dawson recently received just $42,000 to repair streets. At today’s prices that’s hardly enough enough to improve conditions on one city block.
“We’re expected to do more for less,” Parnacott explains. “We get the crumbs that are left after the big dogs get through eating.”
Yet Dawson, which had a population of 4,396 in 2013 (compared to 5,058 residents in 2,000) is better off than many other small communities. While the city’s economy is based on agriculture, there are two major agriculture-based industries with plants in Dawson.
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) has a factory that produces peanut oil. The plant cost $19.2 million to build and is the city’s largest taxpayer It also is a major user of natural gas, which the city buys wholesale and sells to ADM as well as to citizens. The peanut oil is shipped out in tank cars and is packaged for grocery stores elsewhere.
Tyson Foods Inc. provides chicken parts to fast food restaurants and grocery stores including breast meat and wings, although the birds are slaughtered elsewhere. That is fortunate for Dawson residents because the heads, guts, feathers, feet and beaks of slaughtered chickens are ground up for animal feed, and the process produces a horrendous odor. As is the case in northern states where there are small town kraft paper mill sulphur compounds produce an unpleasant odor that “smells like money” according to local residents. who put up with it because it produces jobs.
A recent ADM news release told of how the company has donated $29,500 to eight local organizations:
1. Terrell Academy for emergency alert system and media center upgrades.
2. Terrell County 4-H Club for the archery program.
3. Terrell County Fire Department for personal protective equipment and fire truck engine heaters.
4. Terrell County Emergency Medical Services for rescue equipment.
5. Terrell County Recreation Department for automated external defibrillators and park trash receptacles.
6.Terrell Family Connection for young parent education and adoptive parent recruitment programs.
7. Terrell High School for the football camp program.
8. Vienna Volunteer Fire Department for personal protective equipment and a piercing nozzle.
Finding additional industry and businesses that produce more jobs is a key component of of Parnacott’s assignment. However now companies “bid themselves out” according Parnacott. It is a cutthroat approach. The kind of thing that gives dedicated officials sleepless nights and a painful process for the nation’s small towns caught with limited funds.
Corporate management sends people out to other cities and other states to ask how much a community is willing to pay for a factory. Then the small towns are asked if they are prepared to meet or surpass the offers to keep their local jobs. City officials are asked for free land, a new building, tax breaks, and even additional funding. Companies have been known to close down their local factories when they get the right offer elsewhere.
It reminds one of how the large professional football and baseball teams sometimes act when they want a new ball park or stadium. Except there are no billionaires prepared to go to bat for America’s small towns.
To bring in employers, city managers and city councils must provide quality infrastructure, an educated workforce, and adequate housing, Parnacott explains. That’s a tall order for a small town when federal and state funds are being cut back.
Even large communities, such as Albany, Georgia risk losing industry. For example, Cooper Tire abandoned their Albany plant when another state outbid the locals, according to Parnacott.
City managers have no control over the local educational system, since schools are run by the county. Dawson nor longer has a public school inside the city limits. All have been replaced by the county.
“Job creation and job retention are some of the biggest challenges I face.” Parnacott says.
Just as we have pointed out in another blog, one on commercial fishing, small towns will continue to struggle well into the future.