I have considered writing this column for some time. It would be easy, and probably safe, to listen to some friends who say to keep a low profile. While it might be politically safe, my belief in our community will not let me do that. In fact, political pandering and trying to be all things to all people has been part of the reason that Union sometimes does not grow.
When is good enough…..good enough? I used to watch my daddy leave for work at Buffalo Mill in a thin cheap jacket that did not ward off the cold, and I would listen to him say, “This is good enough for me.” Little did I know at the time that he was living another saying, “One must give up the good for the better.” He was giving up the good for himself to have the better for us.
I recently spoke to a civic group about how things are in Union. I could have said, “Well, things are good enough,” and let it go. I think good enough means OK or alright, not really ahead, and not really behind. I did not say good enough. I said that if you listen to the radio talk show some mornings, you would think we are on the edge of a cliff and about to fall off. I related to the group that, from my perspective, we are on the edge, but on the edge of growth that is already beginning. In recent years, locally and nationally, we have had a severe economic down turn, have been engaged in a protracted expensive war, and especially here in Union, have been hit hard because of so much textile dependency. We have had more than our share of political setbacks, one recently. (I do not view it as a setback, but as evidence that Union is a place where criminal conduct by leaders will not be tolerated.) Political setbacks have no place in the future for Union. We have not just stood still, but we have had growth in the last three years.
Every entry road into Union has a sign promoting “Grow Union.”
The sign is a depiction of the proposed Events Center based on a general representation of the towers and buildings of the old Union and Buffalo Mills, mills that kept us “good enough” for years. The proposed Events Center has sparked a good, healthy debate about the center itself. While the design of the center seems to draw on the past, I think the debate is not nearly so much about building the center as it is about the future of the center as it relates to the future of Union. The future of Union is a growing Union, and we need to focus individually and collectively on “Grow Union.”
I am not sure who coined the phrase “Grow Union.” I have heard both Col. Jack Whitener and Carlise Oxner use it. It is a phrase that says a lot…much more than building an event center. I absolutely do not believe the individuals or businesses who support the Events Center with time and money view it as just a place to host activities, but view it more as one part of a total “Grow Union” movement, a movement for the future.
One cannot help but realize that we have lost population and have lost businesses due to the extreme textile decline. Union was so dependent on textiles. Had political and economic leaders of years ago seen this outcome, they certainly would have done things differently and not accepted that being textile dependent was “good enough.” Certainly, they would have made some bold, risky decisions that would have given up “good enough then for the better now.” Just as we live by decisions made by political and economic leaders some years ago, the decisions we make today are the ones Union will live by in the future.
My church, Grace Methodist, recently escaped with only a boiler mishap what could have been the destruction by fire of this 140-year-old building. The trustees, of which I am a member, spent several nights in discussion about the “fix.” We talked of a fix that was “good enough” for now and was relatively inexpensive. Occasionally, someone would talk of the future and compare the somewhat small number of people in church to the capacity of the church building.
Philip Arnold, in a bold and risky move, made a motion that we complete a study and view upgrading our system for the future, for a growing future, a future that says good enough is not good enough, that says we must give up the good for the better. Philip’s two children are grown, and it would have been easy for him to accept a “good enough” future. He did not, and by unanimous vote, neither did the others. We all jumped in to prepare our church for future growth.
Can we “Grow Union?” Yes, it is already happening. Many groups and individuals are working to grow and advance Union and do not think we are on the edge of a cliff. When I look at the almost daily activities for all ages at the arts center, the museum that will knock you off your feet, the historical trail, the Cross Keys house, the Farm and Tractor Show, and Uniquely Union, I see groups who are trying to Grow Union and are looking to the future.
The motor sports group that is associated with the car show, the drag strip, and supporters of Big Buck are Growing Union. The many running groups that are out and about every day are helping to Grow Union in the region. One group ran in Maggie Valley last weekend, and we can’t miss the early morning Walmart group getting ready for the next Iron Man competition. Each of these groups promote and help to Grow Union in the region. I do not know if we can even measure the Grow Union effect of Jay and Amy Allen showing Midway Barbeque on the Travel Channel show BBQ Crawl.
These people have faith in our future and they Grow Union. There are too many of these groups for me to mention all of them, but you see the picture. I do want to specifically comment on a couple of areas, however.
Many of the recent Events Center comments remind me of past Timken Park comments, both positive and negative. When I try to balance the budget and must consider the availability of capital funds for the jail, cars, and other equipment, I sometimes think, “Boy, I sure could use the money spent on Timken Park.” The fact is Timken Park is here now, so it should be supported. More importantly, when I spend the weekend out there for tournaments and hear positive comments from people from the upstate region and even from out of state, I know it helps Grow Union.
Additionally, when I think of youth league ball, or see the UCHS and American Legion baseball teams play at such a facility as Timken Park, I think that we did well to get past “good enough” for this aspect of our community. Recent months reveal the absolute support this community has for adults and children with disabilities as evidenced by Miracle League. This, again, is evidence that good enough might not be good enough and that maybe we should give up the good (one field at Timken) for the better (opportunity for all).
The purpose of this letter is not to advocate support for or against the Events Center. Both of those themes (for and against) have been expressed in ways better than I can express. I think one of the most vocal members of the concerned citizen movement has expressed publicly his support of the center, but he has concerns about location, parking, etc.
There is an Events Center committee member whom I very much admire because of his part in Growing Union through his efforts with the Rotary Can Project. The Rotary Can Project has been one of the primary financial sources of support for many activities that “Grow Union.” This member supports the center but questions the location.
I spent a large part of my adult life at the old Sims and, nostalgically, would have liked to have seen it there. That does not matter now. A place has been decided, building plans have basically been completed, and the Events Center committee reports to be within 10 percent of the money necessary for construction. Conversation with them indicates that the gap will close soon, and the money will be raised. Under these conditions, then, it is time for groups and individuals to support the center in any way possible the same way that Timken has garnered support, regardless of initial support. The idea here, again, is to Grow Union.
I spoke recently, as I often do, with a senior citizen who has lived history and has expressed genuine concerns about the economic future of Union and where we are headed in terms of population loss, small business loss, and plans to stop the loss. I take the discussion further in my mind to not just stop the loss, but to meet the challenge to grow. We do have empty houses and buildings. The economic landscape of this community and this nation has fostered that in recent years.
As we transition from the textile dependent community where employees and high level management people alike all lived and participated here, we must change our community to foster and entice the entire group to live here again. Quality of life activities will help do that, whether it is the planned Events Center or some other venue that is part of “Growing Union.”
I stated earlier that we are growing. Unemployment in Union is still too high, but three years ago unemployment was above 20 percent. Today it is just above 10 percent. You recently read of Council’s approval of “Project Modern.” At the next council meeting I think you will see another inducement resolution for industrial investment in Union approved.
Let me give you some facts: Gestamp expansion, ESAB, Gonvauto, Belk, Standard Textile, Santuc Precison, Timken, and Allied Industry all represent over $204 million of investment and 589 jobs. I am convinced more are to come: CBDG sewage and water infrastructure improvement of over $5 million, Brownfields assessment grant of a half-million dollars, and an Ottaray renewal grant of $1 million all indicate investment in our future and evidence of growth. USC-Union is at record high enrollment and looking for expansion room. We have two ‘new” junior high schools. All this is evidence of a growing Union. We have the “quick jobs” training center, and we are looking at an industrial building in Commerce Park to complement recent industrial expansion in that area.
We are on the edge…not of a cliff…but one of growth. We have the ingredients. I have identified some people to be part of a 20/20 vision committee to work with government officials to help us get there. I am going to identify some more. There are some imperatives for this group to be successful.
Through this job I have confirmed what I already believed…political pandering or “playing the game,” as an elected official once told me I needed to do, is not the way for real growth and progress. We must give up the good for the better, forgetting self-interest, and believe that to accept good enough is not good enough. We cannot have real growth by doing a little here and a little there for individuals as a means of political payback. We must do what is best for the most. We absolutely cannot be guided by extreme political views from the hard liberals on the left or the extreme tea party groups on the right. My senior citizen friend is right in that if we do not change our approach, we cannot change our outcome. I look forward to his input.
Much of this article is labor or job related. Labor Day coincides with a new school year, and many families think in terms of school year rather than calendar year. After 30 years in education I often think of the “new year” starting in terms of Labor Day. When you read this, it will be after Labor Day. I hope the Jackets have beaten Spartanburg, and the Tigers and the Gamecocks have sent their opponents back across bordering state lines with their tails between their legs like whipped puppy dogs. More than that, I hope we stop some of the negative comments about ourselves. If we tell ourselves enough that we are like whipped puppies, we will begin to believe it.
I was waiting on Joe Moore early this morning for a haircut. I heard the loud train whistle of the morning “BMW” train. I counted the loaded rail cars. There were 60 of them. The train loaded with cars excited me just as our future excites me. Our growth future is bright. We are truly a Uniquely Union that can increasingly become a “Growing Union.”
Note: This letter represents my personal views and is not written as a spokesman for council.
Tommy Sinclair is Union County Supervisor.