BY: TONY CHAVONNE
Like many of us, my mother’s family came from rural North Carolina – a far different place than where many of us reside today. And a different time as well. My grandmother, Elsie Tyson, was a doffer at the Lakedale textile mill in Massey Hill, which meant she removed the bobbins or spindles from a spinning frame and replaced them with empty ones.
Her family lived in one of the mill village houses right outside the gates of the mill. The house and the nearby store where they shopped for food and clothing were all owned by the mill. Her days looked much the same to her – up each morning to go to work, return in the evening, only to go to bed and start all over the next day. She could look forward to one week of vacation each year when the mill closed for the Fourth of July week and celebrated years of employment with a Burlington service pin with a small chip of colored stone attached.
And she never asked for more.
After the turn of the century, industry grew in the South because of the abundance of cheap land and cheap labor. The old strategy for economic growth was attracting manufacturing companies like Burlington Industries with large plants and capacity. After that, people followed jobs.
Communities didn’t need to be concerned with quality of life because moving a plant was cost-prohibitive. Combine that with the pressure to keep the cost of doing business low with low taxes and low wages, and it is amazing there was any growth in arts and cultural
opportunities during this period at all.
People went to jobs planning to spend their entire working career there. After living through the Great Depression, security and
stability were most important to the person, and improvements to one’s quality of life didn’t matter when just having a job was the most important measure of success.
In our new economy, that old paradigm has been turned upside down. Stability is a thing of the past. Talent has replaced cheap land and labor as the drivers of economic growth and vitality. And the talented are more driven by quality-of -life factors such as public safety, good schools and arts and cultural opportunities.
Gone are the days when employees are just happy to have a job. Work is no longer about making enough to pay the bills. It is about the instant gratification today’s workforce demands in the form of a higher quality of life. And when these things aren’t available at an employee’s current company, they are happy to leave and find one that does offer them.
The new economy thrives where there are talented people and where new ideas are rapidly generated. Successful economic development is about attracting talented people, and therefore quality of life plays a critical role. Today, jobs follow people.
Today those communities that are seeking economic prosperity are focused on creating a climate that attracts talented people rather than manufacturing goods. In fact, hardworking people who bring new ideas and innovation to the table are the No. 1 asset for growing a new economy. Creativity is the No. 1 skill for the 21st century.
Arts and cultural opportunities are no less important than low crime rates, good schools or basic infrastructure like electricity and water and sewer lines. Talented, well-educated people choose location first and then look for a job.
The arts should be regarded as an investment of public monies, with a return no different than economic incentives and utility lines. What the arts do is important in creating a community where talented people want to live. Remember – in the new economy, jobs follow people. And people follow quality of life in a community.
One day people will write about how Fayetteville dealt with this new economy.
They’ll talk about the changes from my grandmother’s approach to work and to the attitudes of the young people of today. They’ll talk about the cities that were successful in the transition – those that recognized that it is no longer just about the job, it is about the quality of one’s life.
We will soon see if Fayetteville can be successful in creating jobs and the quality of life enhancements that keep our children here. Or if we will suffer the same fate as the textile mills that once thrived in our community.
Service pins are no longer enough.