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Reader: Blunt words on Savannah's growth issues
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Regarding your recent column, “Savannah growth under the gun:”

In 2010, the depths of the recent recession, John Patterson, former president of JCB, was looking for 100 new employees in Savannah. He could not find qualified individuals—in the depths of the recession.

I wrote about this incident in a column on the economy I was doing on a bi-weekly basis for the Savannah Morning News. I was indignant and outraged, but aside from John Patterson and me, no one seemed to care.

Since I moved here (from Atlanta) in 2001 I’ve been intrigued and underwhelmed by Savannah’s growth. I started asking questions after a SCAD graduate told me in 2005 she was leaving to return to Ohio because there were no jobs here.

Since that time, including seven years of teaching business and economics at SCAD, the three years when I wrote the column for SMN, and a spell on a SEDA committee under Steve Weathers, I’ve built a substantial file on Savannah’s lack of growth.

Let’s remove Gulfstream from this equation—that incredible facility is an “out of Savannah” experience and it disproportionally skews any data with its singular growth.

In my column I hammered the elected officials of the city and the business community with data, demographics, the success of other cities, evaluations and reports which showed us on the bottom of the pile in the vain hope I could piss someone off enough to start a conversation.

It did not happen. With the exception of a few concerned individuals who were kind enough to write, the response was empty—like a void; nothing.

I’d have to spend the rest of the summer writing you all I learned, but that’s impracticable. So I’ll summarize it:

• Elected city officials pander to and try to protect the African American community, and in doing so are impeding the African American community’s ability to get work.

• A merger of Savannah and Chatham County will not happen because the current crop of elected officials will always want to protect their majority voting bloc.

• A very conservative mom-and-pop, risk-averse business community with a few notable exceptions—too few.

• The lack of a competitive stand-up business leader with a vision to lead the city to prosperity.

• The local culture won’t change in our lifetimes—certainly mine. Forget it; work around it.

• Shopping amenities are important for self-esteem, but national retailers are businesspeople. Demographics, location and critical mass are huge for them (think Whole Foods and 25 percent college graduates). While there’s much hand-wringing over the lack of Trader Joe’s, I have reasonably good info that Costco is coming. Hallelujah.

• Most importantly, new people: young, skilled and educated people. Lots of them.

We need to promote the idea of small businesses relocating to Savannah. Bang the drum loudly and often.

We need entrepreneurial, innovative people with ideas.

We need people with capital to start new businesses (Savannah Coffee Roasters—new ownership and nine new employees).

We have lost at least one major employer, according to an impeccable source, because we don’t have a skilled workforce.

We need people not yet dependent upon the Savannah public school system. Also, many who would otherwise move here cannot afford private schools for their kids, so they pass.

In fairness, School Superintendent Thomas Lockamy is making splendid progress, but it will inevitably lead to a two-tiered system. So be it. Parents who make the effort to relocate their children to decent schools deserve that opportunity.

• A caveat: We don’t have a Tier 1 research university and never will—a magnet for talented, innovative people. Neither does Chattanooga, but look at their success. Work around it.


Russ Wigh