February 22, 2017

We must protect Wayne County’s good name

     What’s something we should want more than a winning lottery ticket?
     How about a good name?
     In his biblical wisdom King Solomon advised: “A good name is more desirable than great riches.”
     You won’t find the cowboy comic of America’s Great Depression Era in the Old Testament.  But besides tickling our funny bones, Will Rogers doled out sage advice, too.  I like his admonition: “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”
     As a former president of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce and past chairman of the Industrial Development Authority, I understand the uphill challenge rural communities face when trying to tell their story to prospective newcomers.  Despite what a few former governors denied, there are two Georgias.  There’s the 100-mile circle around Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and then there’s the rest of us. 
     Communities such as Savannah and Brunswick with their ports, airports and tourism are exceptions. But for the most of us, we are doing all we can to polish what we have and say, “Hey, look over here.  See what we have to offer.”
     Wayne County does have much to offer.  Our geographic location may be 240 miles from the world’s busiest airport, but we have Savannah’s, Brunswick’s and Jacksonville’s airports and ports within easy reach.  Our own William A. Zorn Airport can accommodate corporate jets.  We are in the crosshairs of two four-lane highways: U.S. 341 and U.S. 84.  Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads serve us.
     Our small-business community continues to reinvent itself so that it can survive and prosper.  Even a mammoth fire couldn’t kill the vitality of our downtown.   There’s a can-do, rebuilding spirit.  Look at the Strand Theater coming back to life.  That’s a ditto for the rebirth of the shopping center on Cherry Street.  Look around and see the progress.
     Our medical community, surrounding Wayne Memorial Hospital, is vibrant.  Coastal Pines Technical College is a splendid complement to our public school system.  If a visitor wants to know about what organized recreational opportunities exist, take them to Bill Morris Park on a spring afternoon.  And if they are interested in the outdoors, Wayne County is a wonderland. 
     The Amazon of the South, the Altamaha River, is one boundary, and the mirror-like black waters of the Satilla River is another boundary.  A kayak ride under the canopy of trees on Penholloway Creek is paddling through peace on earth. Within an hour, you can dip your toes into the Atlantic Ocean.
     We are blessed in so many ways in Wayne County.  We must protect our good name, lest we hogtie our hopes for continued progress.  That is why I have been so adamant about safeguarding our natural resources—especially our water.  Our health is too valuable to risk.
     Wayne County may stand to reap financial rewards from Republic Services’ turning Broadhurst into one of the largest toxic coal-ash and garbage dumps in America, but we will be the losers in the long run.  Our Chamber of Commerce, our Industrial Development Authority and other come-see-what-we-have-to-offer ambassadors will find Wayne County’s good name sullied.  “Home of Mountains of What Others Don’t Want” isn’t the sign we want hanging over Cherry Street.
     You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.
     That’s why we can’t let Republic Services give us a black eye—forever.