Monday, August 21, 2006

A Failing Plan

[The following article first appeared in the Roanoke Times August 11, 2006.]

The Plan For Southwest Virginia Is Failing
Jerry Fuhrman

In a recent conference call with one of Virginia’s most powerful politicians, I asked how he thought the dismal situation in Southwest Virginia could be turned around. I wanted to know what could be done to counter the sweeping and devastating manufacturing job losses that have occurred, how he might deal with our coal counties that are losing population, and about our stagnant economy. His answer? “Tourism.”


Another politician who has no answers, no new ideas, so he falls back on the default position learned from and perfected by a long line of politicians past and present. Southwest Virginia has nothing going for it save some rocks and bushes so we need to promote what little we have in the forlorn hope that we can lure northerners down here and partake of our scenic splendor, and while doing so, try to get them to purchase a hot dog and a bottled water at the local gas station. That, friends, is the plan for our future success.

It certainly can be said that we have what can be considered a scenic – some might say rugged and inhospitable - landscape. And with it – because of it – we are burdened with a weak transportation infrastructure. To make matters worse, we have substandard schools. And a very low-tech environment with predominantly unskilled labor. And in the areas where we were traditionally strongest, we now have foreign competition. And in parts of the region, we are in the throes of depopulation, particularly when it comes to our best and brightest young people who routinely move out of the area in order to be able to make a future for themselves. Yes, we have our hurdles.

But, by God, we’ve got trees too. And boulders. Lots of pretty rock formations. And lizards and snakes and such. So our future, according to those we look to for guidance in such matters, depends on enticing tourists to the area to walk among nature’s wonders. Or some such.