Sunday, July 22, 2001

Tie a yellow ribbon


Yellow ribbons adorn the square of a town waiting with baited breath for their men and women to come home from Bosnia. And they wait for something else. They wait for some one, some business, some industry to come to town and put their people back to work.

With the closing of Thomaston Mills earlier this year in Thomaston, hundreds of faithful workers lost their jobs. In some cases husbands and wives were suddenly out of work. In other families, third-generation mill workers found themselves suddenly unemployed.

The main streets in downtown are quieter now. A few stores are already closed. There is some fear that the new soon-to-open super Wal-Mart will put one or more of the older grocery stores out of business. A few retail business owners who say buying activity is half what it should be this year are hopeful. They just know some industry will recognize what an opportunity exists now in their town.

Laid-off workers desperately want some miracle so they will not have to sell their homes, or lose them. They want the world to know that not only do hundreds of potential employees stand ready to work, but a beautiful hospital and strong medical community also are in place to continue serving the town and surrounding area.

Many Atlantans already have realized the closest "country" to which they can migrate is now in Meriwether County which lies just west, northwest of Upson. Interstate 85 and Georgia 85, which frame Meriwether, make it especially attractive, while US Highway 19/41 running right through Thomaston make it easily accessible.

Assuredly, no more beautiful country exists than the sprawling hills and valleys just south of metro Atlanta. One couple I spoke with lived in Fayetteville for nearly 30 years, traveling frequently up and down Georgia 85 through Gay, Woodbury, Manchester and Alvaton en route to Columbus. They never knew what beautiful topography Meriwether offered until they moved there a couple of years ago and began to explore the county.

Upson boasts one of the most spectacular, if not the most spectacular, spots on the Flint River at Sprewell Bluff. Locals have been picnicking, swimming and canoeing in the area for ever. Sprewell Bluff may be one of the best-kept secrets in the state. I can understand why Upson Countians would want to keep it that way.

Meriwether County, which butts up against Coweta, seems to be attracting a lot of folks from Atlanta who are buying up large hunks of land for hunting purposes or just so those who escape there on the weekends can still enjoy the peace and quiet of rural Georgia.

Of course, the developers are flocking there too, but without a lot of luck to date. Scouts ride the roads looking for land for sale, large tracts on which to develop homes for those yet to come, those who would be there already if more land was open for housing. The school system which once caught a lot of criticism seems to rising to the challenge that officials know lie ahead . Yet another new elementary school will soon be completed in the lovely little town of Woodbury.

During this year when every time you turn on the news there seems to be another layoff of workers or closing of some factory, mill or military facility, not all news is bad and not all of those affected by such happenings are without hope. Not at all.

In Thomaston, a whole community remains hopeful, even optimistic that somebody somewhere with a dream and a worthy project will come to their town and let them help to make that dream come true.

In Meriwether, the schools keep going up because, like or not, the locals know their dream has been discovered and that other dreamers will continue to come to this land of rolling hillsides, peaceful streams and creeks, and stunning granite formations that jut from the earth to offer a welcome seat to many a nature lover who goes traipsing the woods.

The recession it seems we still are "not in" if you listen to many so-called experts will end. It will not end this year. It will probably be the middle of next year, in fact, before the worst is over (my predictions only here). And when it has ended, Upson and Meriwether counties will be ready.

They have built, are continuing to build, and will hold on for as long as it takes because with exuberance or sadness, depending on who you talk to, they will be ready to greet those who come, for come they will.

Assuredly, the yellow ribbons will wave until the men and women return from Bosnia. Perhaps they will wave until they greet some brilliant businessman recognizes the opportunity that awaits him in Thomaston.

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