Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. -- Will Rogers said that all he knew "iswha= t I read in the papers." I think he might have a healthy skepticismtoday i= f he could drive through America and see it for himself. It's notin the ne= wspapers, at least in plain English.

On a 1,800-mile round-trip drive from Georgia to Pennsylvania, Ihad= a chance to see economic growth and development that looks quitedifferent = from the crunched numbers and published statistics. Out there,statistics h= ave faces, and communities reflect change; I realized that allI know is wha= t I observed for myself.

"Watch out," my husband John said. "Alan Greenspan is going tocome = after you." This, after my drive-by-shooting-off-my-mouth runningcommentary= on all my observations.

On this trip, our huge shaggy sheep dog was curled up on half theba= ck seat of a small car, crowded in by the Christmas packages piledaround he= r. We stopped more often than usual to walk BoPeep and grab acup of anythi= ng hot enough to keep sunshine in our hearts long enough toreach the frozen= north and back. It was freezing!

As I stand around waiting for BoPeep to analyze the other caninetra= velers' "calling cards," I see Wendy's across the street, Taco Bellright ne= xt door, Burger King next to Wendy's and a sign for Cracker Barrel50 feet i= n the air. Travelers must support those businesses, I thought,because the = town is too small to support even one fast food restaurant.

I was satisfied with that conclusion until the next stop, some 200m= iles north in West Virginia. Along with five or six restaurants at theend = of the off-ramp -- all brand new, I might add -- there was a hugeshopping m= all across the highway. We continued on that state road untilwe could get = gas, walk the dog, and have lunch all in one stop.

This time, John walked BoPeep and I spoke with the chattywaitress. = Althea was her name. "Althea," I began, "I haven't seen afarm, a smokesta= ck, a factory, a railroad or anything that would tell mewho the largest emp= loyer is here." Without hesitation, Althea said, "Oh,that would be WalMart= ." They hire 2000 people.

"Were that many people out of work here?" I asked.

"Well, we had some, but WalMart hires even before they build aplace= because we have people from all over who knew WalMart would behere," she s= aid absently. "Same with the Home Depot behind that mall overyonder." = John slid into the booth while Althea brought him an order ofchili. "I = have a theory, John," I said. Of course he gave me agood-natured smirk, wa= rming his frozen hands on his cup of chili before hecould even hold the spo= on. (We do own gloves; we just couldn't find wherewe stored them before we= left Georgia.) "I think these people are allfeeding off each other," I sa= id, brimming with confidence in my keenpowers of observation.

"How did you reach that conclusion?" he said from on high. "= Well, you notice WalMart is never at a mall. They always havetheir own pie= ce of land. Why is that?" I asked.

"The land's cheaper," he said.

"Well, yes, probably, but that's not what I figured. I think it'sb= ecause WalMart sells everything, so why have customers check prices inother= mall stores? Customers are more likely to buy where they are thanget into= their car again." I chuckled with superior knowledge saying, "Inever buy = at Penney's without checking Sear's prices at the mall."

I thought it through. "Well," I said then, "if they build wherethe = land is cheaper, then their philosophy is probably like the Field ofDreams,= thinking 'If we build it, they will come.' And, they do come,John. The= mall was built, all the restaurants came, Home Depot openedto supply the n= eeds of the newcomers and... ."

"And we have a well-paved, shiny new exit to walk the dog," Johnchi= med in. "Let's get on the road."

It looks like there will be more of the same. All along the highwa= y we saw signs of future development -- "signs," literally -- on land procl= aiming "Industrial Sites" or "Availability of Land for Development" and the= name of a real estate broker in the area.

I suspect from the age and condition of the tattered signs in some towns= that years of trying to get a large company or mall to locate there has co= me to nothing, sometimes.

Since that drive, I've learned of the tremendous effort it takes to actu= ally develop a site. Before the shovel ever hits the dirt, many communitie= s make expensive mistakes. A popular bromide among site developers is "Rem= ember that in doing your planning, education is what you get from reading t= he small print, and experience is what you get from not reading it."

My thinking that WalMart looks for a piece of cheap land and thenst= arts piling up blue and gray cinder blocks until it's built is toosimplisti= c. After getting the facts, I'm rather embarrassed I didn'tthink beyond wh= at I could see.

"What about water?" John had said. "What about power? Is WalMart= going to find that in the middle of some old land no longer used for agric= ulture?"

"You mean the infrastructure," I said quietly, having never beforeu= sed the word I first heard Ross Perot illustrate with charts and graphs. I= had neither. Obviously, I also didn't know what I was talking about.

And yet, here we were, driving through new town after new town, wit= h no visible industries to support them except each other's. And, although = the planning might have been deeper than it looked on the surface, I still = saw restaurants buying meat and vegetables from the supermarket; the superm= arket employees eating at the fast food places; mall employees going to Wal= Mart, and WalMart employees having their hair done at the mall. Nobody com= muted to other towns. Everything they need is where they are.

And when I talked about each place supporting the others, Johnsmirk= was gone. "Yeah," he said, "it's like 'You do my laundry; I'll doyours." = "Oh," I said. "Where did you get that line?"

"Economics 101," he said.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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