Defeating Modern Colonization
By Sam Burnham, Curator
There are a lot of really big corporations in the Georgia headlines lately. Obviously Amazon is still out there. There's the recent spat between the legislature and Delta. Then there's the announcement regarding Facebook opening a new data center in Newton County. And just today I read that Starbucks is looking for executive type office space and is considering Midtown Atlanta.
I've been reading a lot of Wendell Berry lately. And I'm really just relaying some information that I'm reading from him. I've thought about this phenomenon, even written about it. But he actually used the terminology "colonization" and I had never thought about it that way until now. But that is exactly what these huge corporations are. They come in, hire some locals, pay them what they have to, maximize profits, keep the vast majority of those profits, and send the cash back home.
I mentioned this before with Wal-Mart. They open a store out on the highway on the edge of town, often a bypass. The undercut the price of any store selling anything in town. They pay folks just above minimum wage, little if any benefits. All the local businesses dry up. The only place you can buy anything in town is Wal-Mart, most of the money goes to Bentonville, Arkansas and your town never sees it again.
Congratulations, you've just been colonized.
So Facebook comes to town. Newton County could use the financial boost. But this is a data center and while that sounds flashy, it's really lower tech type work. These are not really high paying jobs. And Facebook has no real investment in the community. In fact, if they get upset about a state or local law, they just pack up and move. If they don't get their way, they're out of here faster than you can say "cotton mill."
And now the governor and the legislature are both scared to pass laws that reflect our longstanding principles because they might upset Delta or Amazon. Amazon is more powerful than Georgia voters and they aren't even here yet - may not ever come here. Imagine how powerful they will be if they do come here. And yet they have no real investment here. They aren't attached to Georgia. Even as long as Delta has been here and with 18 years left on their current lease, they don't care about this state. They don't care about Atlanta. They care about the benefits of doing business here. If their level of perturbation exceeds the financial business, poof, cotton mill.
A true, healthy, strong economy in this state can be boosted by large corporations but it has to be built on those local businesses that have roots here, not just annexes. A strong economy is built on community banks, the local hardware store, the local farmer's market, a family owned newspaper. It's built by people who love the place so much, they decide to settle and try to make it better. It's for people who will stay come hell or high water. They don't need an incentive package to relocate here because this is already home.
What can we do to make these sorts of enterprises grow and thrive? That is the question we need to be asking.
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Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire