On a Tuesday evening in February 2015, I stood near the stage of the Crown Auditorium and watched a crowd gather. They were there to talk about a slice of Fayetteville’s economic future.
I was talking to a newspaper editor. As I looked over his shoulder at the seats behind him filling up, I said to my self: “Good grief, we’ve done it again!”
There were people in red shirts and green shirts filing into the auditorium. A few wore white shirts and the phrase “Jobs Stop Bullets” printed on the front.
It was the public hearing over a proposed chicken processing plant. The red shirts were against the plant coming to Cumberland County’s vacant industrial site.
The green shirts were hungry for the roughly 1,000 full-time jobs the $100 million facility would bring to the community.
The color of the shirts was roughly divided along racial lines. A majority of white people wore red, and a majority of African Americans wore green.
The irony was that Sanderson Farms, the NASDAQ traded chicken rendering plant from Mississippi, had already lost interest in Cumberland County.
They had gotten the cold-shoulder message at a previous County Commission meeting. There, a vocal group believed a chicken processing plant in an industrialpark was either beneath us or perceived environmental affects were too costly. A well-organized group, they made their point. And, besides, business goes where it’s welcomed and stays where it’s appreciated.
On stage that night were two governing bodies, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners and the Fayetteville City Council. Both dutifully listened to those against and who favored the plant.
In the end, the commissioners voted down any thoughts against giving incentives to Sanderson Farms to locate here. The City Council shrugged and told everyone it was a county decision.
That’s true, but an epiphany for me that evening was that no one had another solution, a win-win situation, another stab at getting jobs here in Fayetteville.
The events of that evening got me talking to people. I’ve talked to many over the past months and asked what they believe stops Fayetteville from being better then it is.
I took my conversations to social media and sent surveys. Here’s what they said:
1. We don’t have professional-level jobs that pay enough for a family to live in Fayetteville. Part-time retail jobs won’t do.
2. We lack the kind of industry — other than retail — that can share the tax burden to pay for the amenities necessary to make our city better.
3. We have a violent crime problem that hurts victims and our chances of getting potential employers to locate here.
4. We have horrendous traffic congestion made worse by aggressive drivers.
5. Finally, we are trashy; both in roadside litter and how we keep
Whether real or not, that’s generally what many people think about our community.
By focusing on fixing those core issues, we can recruit the kind of jobs that keep people in Fayetteville. More jobs might help lower crime, and may even build enough pride in our community to make us care how it looks. It’s why I am running for Fayetteville City Council.