Better Living in Our Communities
Employment (Bringing and Keeping Jobs)
Our area has a history of employment leaving the area with the closing of the big textile mills over the years. You can drive through the rural areas and see where the railroad beds have been torn up and are now growing weeds and trees. The railyards in some small towns are deserted and the stations sit idle. Brick plants are being converted into condominiums, retail, and conference space if they are being used at all. It takes money and hope to pick up and move your family, and not everyone wants to leave family ties and property.
In recent years, we’ve had some success with bringing some industry back, e.g. KIA, Remington, Duracell, TSYS, AFLAC, BCBS, Amazon, and others. They’ve been primarily locating near or actually IN urban areas. While understandable for many reasons, this does not help our rural residents much. If they decide to seek employment, they must drive considerable distances every day to get there. KIA is the sole outlier because they chose to locate in West Point for their massive plant. Incentives can be given to encourage businesses to locate further out such as:
- Improving affordable housing for their workers and management.
- Improving schools for their children and working with them to ensure that daycare/pre-K/kindergarten is available.
- Ensuring that emergency services are up-to-date.
- Good medical care is available in the area.
- Utilities are either available or can be constructed.
- Sufficient workers are either there or can be trained at either the high school or local tech college in concert with the company.
- Good access to rail, highway, or air transport as needed.
This area does offer so much for family living. We know that. It falls to us to convey that to companies that are coming in from the outside to see what we see. Plus, we need to offer them the things that they are looking for in good measure. One of the things that I see is that we need to act as a unit instead of by county. People drive to Kia, for example, from Troup, Meriwether, Harris, and Muscogee plus others. All of the counties involved then benefit.
You cannot turn this around on wishes and dreams. You have to have some skin in the game. I’m willing to help work on this. Are you willing to support me?
Broadband for Education
Boy, oh, boy, if there was one thing this pandemic taught all of us, it was that we got caught with our britches down as far as having broadband and cellular access out in the rural areas of our state. Complications on top of complications on that one and not a single one of them favorable to anybody with the possible exception of the people selling the services.
For those people who might have been living in a cave and are unaware of what I am referring to, here’s a list of the “gotchas” we had to deal with in various work arounds:
- Teachers who had no idea of how to change their lesson plans from classrooms to online learning (and it is vastly different). We need to have a plan implemented to train teachers already teaching as well as those who are just now entering the profession. This isn’t going to be optional. The internet and online learning is not going away. If we want to improve our educational system, then we will have to improve the methods we use to teach.
- Students who did not know how to adapt to being in an online environment to learn. Collaborative learning, asking questions, turning in assignments, getting assignments, doing research, etc. were all suddenly very different and they did not know how to adapt. Most middle-class families and above would not have thought about this with every child seemingly knowing how to use at least a computer game and smartphone, but many kids in “dead” zones did not. Poor kids do NOT have access to these things or limited access. Cell phones have limited minutes. They do not have transportation to a library with internet or a neighbor with WIFI. If they don’t have the equipment and/or the access, they CANNOT learn the necessary skills to negotiate this world competently.
- Many students did not have proper equipment so had to borrow tablets and laptops just to stay with their peers. Smartphones did not have the minutes or bandwidth to handle the classes. Their families simply cannot afford to get them tablets, laptops, and/or internet access with high enough download speeds to be useful. Dial-up and satellite services are much too slow.
- Families did not HAVE sufficient time on their plans to allow children to access their schools. Plans had to be made to transport children to “wifi” buses that acted as hubs for them to download/upload their work. Depending on family work schedules, this was very disruptive. Again, the download speed has to be there for the service to be at all useful to the students and school system.
- Children fell way behind in their schoolwork because of their difficulties. Tutoring was nearly non-existent. Our students are already far behind the national average. For the first time in years, they fell FURTHER behind. Because of Republican spending cuts to the Education budget, we have cheated our children for an entire generation of a quality education. This is unacceptable.
I know a little something about on-line education as a student. I got one of my degrees from South University in 2010 completely online. I KNOW the challenges the students face. It isn’t easy. Not by a long shot. You have to be dedicated, resourceful, willing to scream for help, and able to lock yourself away from pets, other family members, TV, videos, the refrigerator, phone calls, texts, emails (except those related to class), etc. If you think studying is hard in a brick-and-mortar classroom, you haven’t seen this one. It’s a stinker if you aren’t prepared for it. Our teachers and children, by and large, were not. We have to change that.
I propose that the State in addition to adding statewide broadband needs to start:
- Continuing education for educators on using online instruction for grades K-12.
- Incorporate online learning into the curriculum as a routine part of learning, This will help both educators and students to become more skilled at using the internet, the equipment, and getting material back/forth.
- Schedule “ONLINE LEARNING/RESEARCH” days into the routine especially for grades 8-12 as a preparation for secondary education.
- Make tablets and laptops available for all students during the academic year.
While I realize that making these changes would require massive funding, there are revenue sources available from various grants, savings from purchasing in bulk, and other means to do this. It is an investment in our youth and in Georgia’s future. It is time to go FORWARD, not stagnate in the past.
More Broadband Issues
This whole situation is a problem not just for education, but also for routine work services and for Emergency Services which rely heavily on being able to reach dispatch, hospitals, doctors, and each other in a near-instantaneous fashion. If the system cannot function properly, it could, conceivably, mean life-or-death in the field. No one wants that.
County services, such as inspectors for water, homes, septic systems, need to be able to reach their offices or have people reach them. We all know that cell phone service can be interrupted by the terrain (such as Pine Mountain!), and getting enough bars for voice service is tricky. Businesses do not want to locate in areas where they cannot communicate easily with their employees or customers. This will have to be addressed in order to attract more jobs to Georgia.
Let’s get these technology issues online and a plan made for routine maintenance and up dating. We do not want to get caught flat-footed again!
In this area, the EMCs and Georgia Power are the primary resources for electrical power. A few folks are turning to solar or wind power to supplement or even entirely remove themselves from the power grid. Even the power suppliers themselves are heavily turning in the direction of alternative sources as we see solar panel farms beginning to sprout from rooftops and alongside highways. Coal and natural gas-fueled plants are slowly being phased out. If you get the Department of Agriculture’s Farmer’s Market Bulletin, you might remember the article about the massive solar array down at Perry, GA along I-75. It is not the only one, but it is the most easily seen. It doubles as a sheep farm. The sheep will be rotated through the areas under the solar panels to “mow” the grass.
Wind energy is still seen in rural areas mostly for pumping water although it does have applications for generating power. We may start seeing more and more of this in combination with solar.
Yes, we do have Plant Vogle which might be finished before I die. Nuclear power has been used in other countries and some places in the USA. It does have some problems and issues, but everything does. Personally, I rank it slightly above fossil fuels as a source, but only slightly. It is not about the perceived danger of contamination around a plant that bothers me (although that does exist if something like Fukoshima’s meltdown should happen), but the constant problem of nuclear waste disposal which is always there. (The spent rods have to be trucked across country (which really bothers me), put several hundred feet down inside of a salt cave, and will sit there until when? The half-life for the stuff is something like 4,000 years. So the first containers in will be inert in something like 50,000 years? My mind is struggling here, but the short version is, I don’t like it.
Natural gas in the home is primarily limited to homes either in cities or nearby since it must be piped in. Propane gas, a near cousin, can be tanked and delivered to homes for residential use. In a few cases, fuel oil furnaces may still be in use, but these are increasingly few as parts become harder to find, people who know how to service them become harder to locate, and the fuel itself becomes more expensive.
Clean water in our homes is now something most of us take for granted, but it wasn’t always this way, and still isn’t for many people. Communities that provide potable (drinking safe) water to their residents must ensure its safety. Likewise, disposal of sanitary waste is a health issue and one that many of our smaller towns struggle with. These two issues go hand-in-hand like a pair of Siamese twins as well they should. They are ultimately related and we owe it to our communities to ensure those systems are working at peak performance.
I am a strong advocate for the use of clean energy. My husband and I recently installed 36 solar panels on our barn to help power our home. In time, we will own them. We hope to one day be able to purchase the batteries to be able to run off of the power generated at night and during blackouts. I want to see the State and the counties use clean energy as a requirement for all new industry coming into the State.
As we attract more growth to this area, and as our children grow up and we grow older, one of the facts of life is: not everyone wants, or can afford, one of those big 3500 square foot homes with the accompanying mortgage, taxes, and upkeep costs. As nice as they are, there are only so many that the housing market will tolerate. There’s those people and then there’s the rest of us. What can we afford?
These little dwellings run the gamut of sizes and styles to fit your tastes and budget. They could house 1-2 people or a family if you get creative. Some have wheels under them so if you get a new job, hitch up the house and move the whole thing. Communities are using them to house homeless vets, serve as shelter for halfway houses, and other projects in something that is reminiscent of the Conservation Corp Camps. Parents are putting grown children in them or children are housing elderly parents in the side yard to give them privacy and dignity while still keeping an eye on them. We’ll need to rethink some zoning laws in some areas regarding these things, but it certainly deserves another look.
But we need a more COMPREHENSIVE plan for how developers are allowed to come in and begin to build all types of housing. We need to ask more questions of ourselves and them. For example:
- Is this for families with children or for possibly the elderly?
- Will there be provisions for gardens, orchards, livestock? What about wooded areas? Trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, ATV?
- Can these buildings be made accessible for disabled living?
- Are you using sustainable materials to build?
- How are you protecting the environment as you build?
- Are you using native species for landscaping?
- Will these buildings be affordable both to purchase and to maintain? Some of the prices for a finished house? Depending on the features, it can go $120,000 or more for a 400 square foot dwelling. DIY? Much less. It depends.
The State needs to require that a certain number of AFFORDABLE housing units must be built/refurbished and finished to code BEFORE the start of $300K+ homes. This is normally a matter for county commissioners and zoning boards. However, if we wait for them, this will never get done. If the State is looking to attract more industry, then the State must have an interest in the ability of the counties to supply affordable housing for the workers who will make that industry happen.
Getting Our Schools Competitive Again
The schools in this state have sunk to the depths like they were made of lead shot. When our Republican leaders decided to cut budgets, they took the knife hard to our schools’ budgets. Good teachers have gone elsewhere. Why should they stay? They aren’t being paid enough. The textbooks are falling apart. They are being told by amateurs what they can and cannot teach in the classrooms (and those amateurs were probably not stellar students themselves). Children have had their nutrition compromised by reduction in funds for breakfast and lunch. These meals are often the ONLY meals these kids will get that are nutritious. They’ll be fortunate when they get back home to eat at all. Access to electronics is very limited out in rural areas even if you are not limited economically. Broadband is expensive and can be choppy. Then there’s the issue of being able to get and competently USE the equipment.
What Do We Need?
- State funded day care that is available 24/7/365. The centers should have wages that are adequate to ensure competent care, cleanliness, and safety for any child left in their care. Every worker needs to have fingerprint NATIONAL backgrounds done. This is not the place for those having questionable records. These daycare MUST be affordable for the minimum wage worker with safe environs for them as they enter/exit.
- Early childhood education. Pre-k and kindergarten should not be just an option for the well-to-do. Workers must be screened and competent for their work. Wages must be sufficient to hold well-trained personnel. These must be available to minimum wage workers 24/7/365 and must be affordable. The safety, care, and cleanliness of the facility must be maintained at all times inside and out. Incorporating these into the PUBLIC elementary schools would enable working parents to take care of all children at one location.
- Elementary thru high school More choices in public schools are needed since the requirements that children have can vary widely. Targeted schools that specialize in teaching certain types of students, magnet schools, and vocational schools are some of the possible choices. We need to work on educational attainment and overall quality. No child should be forced out of our public schools to reach a quality education.
- Secondary Education and beyond You’d have to really be phenomenal in some field to pay for your own college education these days. It is estimated that you would have to earn ~$47/hour/40 hour week to afford a full load semester. That’s just crazy. Then when students go looking for a loan, they don’t realize that the interest compounds DAILY. No wonder they can’t get out from under those loans. Under graduate education needs to be state funded for all four years within the University system. If a student desires to attend a school not in the system, they can receive the equivalent amount toward their education, but the state will not pay for the entire tuition.
All of this takes funding and a lot of it. These children are our future, but right now, if they can, they’re packing up and moving elsewhere taking their brains and talents with them. Georgia is losing our future because the Republicans cut our education funding past the bones. I want to help turn that tragedy around and make our public schools the pride of the South if not the nation. You can help me do that by voting for me.
This is a topic on everybody’s mind and it just doesn’t go away.
Healthcare is a major issue for children from the time they are born until shortly after they leave for college. They have various illnesses, need vaccinations, health screenings, dental and vision checks, and, invariably, have accidents. However, this State has a shortage of Pediatric physicians and, consequently, access to care for children mostly in poor and/or rural counties. Of course, it follows that a goodly number of these children are minority as well. Our health departments can only take up so much of the slack. We need to address this issue.
Likewise and, in much the same fashion, women of child-bearing age, cannot access reproductive care close to where they live. This can range from birth control or STD diagnosis, pregnancy testing, PAP smears, all the way up to pre-natal care, abortions, and post-natal care and lactation help. They NEED to have competent care close to where they work/live especially if they are high-risk. Traveling miles to seek care can/does put them at much higher risk of complications that can endanger their future health, well-being, and quite possibly their life or that of their fetus. We absolutely have to find a way to get better maternal care in rural areas. Our ratings are atrocious.
And then there are the hospital closings. We have to get Medicaid expanded. Georgia has had 8 hospitals to close and we are about to lose one of our largest Level one Trauma hospitals in Atlanta. That is just unacceptable. We need to find ways to re-open these hospitals and make them healthcare centers again. People are dying as they are being driven past those locked doors on the way to other places. That is just so not right. We must be better.
I have never lived in the city limits in my entire life and have no desire to start. It’s not that I dislike neighbors. It’s that I’ve never had any that close. My parent’s house was on 5 acres and my grandparents’ next door was 20. Then we moved to 27 acres. When I moved to Coweta, I moved to 50 acres. Now my husband and I own nearly 30 acres in Meriwether County.
I grew up riding my grandfather’s plow mule and tractor. I held a grudge for years after he died and they sold that mule. He’d promised her to me. But I learned all the stuff about farming and gardening from them-milking cows, chickens, slaughtering hogs and making sausage, when to plant by the moon, hoeing and hilling, gathering in, canning, freezing, jelly-making, shelling peas, cutting corn, and even grinding the corn meal in the grist mill (after you evicted the mother cat and her kittens out of the hopper).
Even after my grandfather died, we continued to have gardens there and after we moved. I know what it is like to worry about the weather both wet and dry. I know about the price of seed and fertilizer never coming down. But I also know the satisfaction of a hard day’s work and sitting down to a table full of things you picked and cooked yourself. Somehow it is just extra good.
All of this is to say one thing very clearly-I am not a “city elitist” who doesn’t understand farmers or rural life. I do. Because I have always been one of you. While I do not come from a commercial farming background, I still remember the days when I could buy a bale of hay for my horse for $.25/small bale. Now I can’t touch a good bale of coastal for less than $7. That’s a little over a 350% increase and, no, I’m not blaming the growers. What does make me angry though is that while the price has gone up, the INCOME FOR THE MINIMUM WAGE EARNERS HAS NOT. (Not the State minimum wage or the Federal.) What’s wrong with that picture?
The entry of factory agriculture into Georgia is running family farmers out of business and I am concerned about that for two reasons: A. We need the diversity of crops and business that family farmers bring us, and B. factory farms tend to pollute more with their waste management practices. I want to advocate for family farmers. And I want more oversight on the waste management practices of these huge operations (among other things).
The Department of Agriculture has been doing a great job of encouraging the use of low/no till farming and reduced usage of weed killers to prevent run-off into our waterways. We need to encourage this and the reduction of the use of pesticides that kill our pollinating insects. Greater diversity in our choice of planting instead of mono-culture planting would also help break the damaging cycle of insect damage and improve pollinators in the fields.
Access To Transportation
Railroads and airports have been a part of my life since before I was born. My granddaddy was a railroad man who worked on the old steam engines of the Southern Railway in downtown Atlanta. All the engineers knew him and would blow to greet him after his retirement as he sat on his porch across from the crossing. My mom and dad met at Delta Air Lines. I was flying before I was even born.
The house I grew up in was across from US Hwy 29 and the railroad tracks. It was only a short way from US Hwy 279. Later on, we were boxed in by I-85 and I-285. The trains roared by the entire time I was growing up. Motor traffic was increasing. And we were in the landing pattern for Hartsfield Airport. The sound of aircraft punctuated everything.
Being aware of business needs for access to transportation is second nature to me. With the exception of such services that can be done over the internet, if you can’t get either your service or your goods to the customer, you haven’t got a business. Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi River. We have lots of lovely acreage out there, but it can be a LONG way to get to work, get to a customer, or get products to market.
Shipping by air is expensive and ecologically unwise. Most do it only when time is at a premium.
Shipping by rail has, unfortunately, become a logistical problem as tracks have been torn up and switching yards closed. Diesel engines are polluters but they do haul freight most economically. Efforts are being made to switch to electric or perhaps magnetic in some areas, but that is still a long time coming. It would be great if the freight industry pushed harder on this.
Trucking is the major way that things get moved in this state. If you don’t believe it, just head down to a truck stop down by one of the interstates about 10 pm any night of the week. God must love the long-haul drivers.
Georgia needs to work on passenger light rail between our towns and major cities. The Interstates are simply getting too congested to handle much more than what they are doing right now. Passenger cars are competing with 18-wheelers, and, folks, it is dangerous out there. I’m not blaming anybody. It just is. Light rail could be built as high-speed and could go either over or under existing interstate highway.
Freight needs to be moved in the coming future by rail with a hub-and-spoke system of trucks to disperse goods. All could use electric engines and be quieter and faster than current methods. Build this system out like a spider web to connect all parts of the State.
We can do this if we put our hearts and minds into it. We just need to commit to doing it. Are you with me?