To begin this series of articles focused on small town America, lets take a look at a south Georgia town known as Jesup. The reason being, towns like this across America and even around the world, provide a pungent canvas for painting a better societal past, present, and probably a future too. Just as some leaders seem to be returning to values and ideas which somehow went astray, so too evaluating small town or small business America may bear fruit.
What led us to consider doing these pieces is rather fascination, having to do with Wall Street and the effect massive investment and business has had on not only America, but the world. In short, as one visionary Wall Street hedge fund innovator Lynn Tilton, who many believe may hold the keys to the new economic machine for America. One to replace the machine left in the parking lot when everyone jumped on board with the huge investment banks. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, first we need to look at some results of “big money” as compared with “money for real people,” wherein Jesup, Georgia may be a perfect case.
Innovative Ideas and Real Capital
Lynn Tilton’s multi billion dollar investment firm Patriarch Partners, LLC, is all about, as her motto reveals; ‘Rebuilding America: One company at a time, one job at a time.’ We have to face facts sooner or later, America has been torn down using the reverse philosophy.
This is where towns like Jesup come in. Once thriving communities, places where jobs and hope were plentiful, now languishing on the brink of collapse in every aspect of life. One last comment about Tilton and the economic situation, if Goldman Sachs and other monoliths are a big part of the problem – then people, real people, and the communities where they live are the solution.
I lived in Jesup, Georgia on several different occasions. My father was an attorney there back in “the day”, when most such excellent communities were the bread and butter of American industrialism. Farms, factories, the railroads, and a hundred small businesses thrived here from the mid 1960’s through the mid 1970’s here. In 1974 when ITT expanded their Rayonier pulp mill, making it the largest on planet Earth, dozens of businesses either supported or were being supported by that company’s success. “Mom and Pop” were alive and well in the heart of an America with unlimited possibility. Then some bubbles burst.
ITT Rayonier is a near perfect example of how massive investment in big business can dramatically effect not only Jesup, Georgia, or in the end the United States, but the world at large. Tilton and others are trying to refocus economic where they should have been all along, on the medium and small businesses that feed 80 percent of the people of the world.
Failed Strategies That Keep Failing
There are a lot of factors to be considered, but basically Jesup, Georgia and many other towns like it fell victim to two huge mistakes. First, leadership in towns like these have not been all they should have (a topic for a later piece). Secondly, the economic leverage of big businesses like Rayonier, the interjection of companies like Walmart into the local economy, and other economic nightmares have effectively stifled, even crippled the people who make up these communities. Call this type of infrastructure the “eggs in one basket” economic model. GM, Amtrak, Rayonier, and a few others move on or lose, people who live in Jesup suffer. Add to this leadership that is still back in the 1920’s and what do you have? Considering this town should now be thriving? A damned disaster.
Now multiply Jesup, Georgia by 5,000. Then you see Jesup is not actually doing all that bad. People are still trying. Unlike most towns like it who have succumbed and basically gone under, Jesup still somehow manages to plug along. But, plugging along is not exactly the American Dream is it? It is time for some big change quite obviously. I was looking at Jesup’s latest City Council minutes (PDF) from 2010. Can you even imagine what the biggest topic of city business was on the table?
Gone To the Dogs and Wondering Why
You cannot, you won’t want to guess even. An animal nuisance ordinance. Right after the Lord Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, City Attorney Alvin Leaphart (who was there when my father practiced 40 years ago) is asked to edit an ordinance and fines for people having too many cats and dogs loose. My God how the local mighty fall? If you think grandfathered leadership has lost its effectiveness, old friend Leaphart contributed to the Obama and the Clinton campaigns – visions of Goldman Sachs taken home to Georgia come to mind.
To wrap up this initial look at what Lynn Tilton (PDF) might term “a local disconnect” with an economy that works, let me suggest a couple of things. The structures, economic or otherwise, we have counted on these last 4 decades to drive us to “the dream” have failed miserably. We need not even discuss this. For Jesup, Georgia or 1000 other small places the business sense, political innovation, educational systems, financial investment, and many other systems have performed miserably. Part of this is because of the availability of investment for small business, part is because people are uninformed, part is due to those large business “eggs” I spoked of, but most of the problems Americans face are the fault of intrenched officials and business people who have no desire to see anyone succeed but themselves. Their ideas, their age old template for going forward simply drags America down.
Somewhere along the line places like Jesup simply gave up the progressive ghost. Big money from the top, convince people everywhere that they were better off doing what they said. Buy at Walmart and save! Trust in ITT, we will never let you down!
Vote for me this year, I promise things will be better this time! A town like Jesup, Georgia could never have a per capita income just above the poverty level. Massive land and other business friendly resources to sell the market, and Jesup is locked in a proverbial stone age, where the same old strategies are being tried? This is where innovation like Lynn Tilton proposes will hopefully come to fruition.