Whither One-Sumter?

By M. William Howard, Jr.

“One Sumter is a community-wide initiative of the Americus Sumter Payroll Development Authority (ASPDA) to stimulate economic and community development in all of Sumter County. This bold five-year program expands and enhances the mission of the ASPDA and re-energizes collaboration among our private corporate community, our education and community leaders as well as our elected officials for the good of our entire community”. (from the One Sumter website: www.OneSumter.org)

Maintaining and strengthening the economy is an urgent challenge for local communities everywhere, especially now that technology and automation is doing more and more work that was once done by human hands. This is the case in manufacturing, but also where farming constitutes the backbone of commerce. Mechanization, acquisition of farmland by large, agribusiness enterprises, and technologydriven processing and shipping, have reduced, and in some cases eliminated, the demand for human labor in the agriculture sector.

Retail stores are undergoing dramatic change as well, with storefronts being out-paced by online shopping. Even supermarkets may soon feel the pinch, thus people earning their living in retail sales will largely go the way of toll collectors on toll roads.

In this climate, small, rural towns like Americus must be intentional and smart in its aim to remain viable. The fact that Americus has existed since the first half of the 19th century is no assurance of its future when you see so many “ghost towns” strewn across America that were once thriving centers.

Those that were heavily reliant upon one or two industries to support their economy have watched these companies move their operations “off shore” or reduce their workforce because employing robotics is cheaper than employing human labor.

Far more than immigration, technology’s replacement of human workers is at the root of much of the discontent that we witness in the American electorate (as evidenced in the 2016 national election), and it will continue to be so until a viable solution to this systemic reality is found.

Community efforts such as the fledgling “One Sumter” initiative, designed to enhance economic prospects for present and future generations, are essential.

However, to realize success, the legacy of racial bias and overt discrimination in the county and the region must be faced squarely, and a no nonsense commitment to be inclusive of the broadest cross-section of residents at every level must be demonstrated.

Major entities looking for new locations always rate more highly potential hosts cities and towns that are unified, skilled and purposeful. If significant constituents of the area are marginalized, and not included as overt stakeholders, this will be a disincentive for firms to start, stay or come.

Frankly, this is an appeal to leaders and residents of all racial/national categories, divided as they are along Lee Street (North and South) by Forsyth, to grab hold of every chance to work together like never before to seize a new future!