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Friday, January 6, 2012

Woes of Rocky Mount

Certain areas of the South suffer persistent economic misfortune. Southwestern Alabama and western Mississippi are two examples. Here in North Carolina, there are several pockets of grievous unemployment.

One of them is Edgecombe County, which contains the east half of the city of Rocky Mount. Growing up in Alabama, I knew only that there was a Class A minor league baseball team in Rocky Mount that provided players for the Class AA Montgomery Rebels. I never visited Rocky Mount until we moved to North Carolina in 1986. Since then, I've been there a number of times. One can see that the city of 60,000 formerly prospered from railroad money, textiles money, and tobacco money.

One can also see that prosperity, along with the headquarters of the Hardee's burger chain, left Rocky Mount a long time ago. Aside from governmental functions, the downtown core is nearly deserted. About a quarter of the city was inundated by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. In recent years a few new businesses have located there -- all Cheesecake Factory cheesecakes in the eastern U.S. are now made in Rocky Mount -- but these companies have not offset the loss of other jobs.

Now we are told that 475 jobs in Rocky Mount, many of them at good salaries, will be lost because of a bank merger. It's no surprise; the existence of these jobs was an anachronism, dating to the days when there was a lot of local money in Rocky Mount. Nevertheless it's more bad news for a city that doesn't need any.

In the words of City Councilman Andre Knight, "They bailed out Wall Street, but what about our back streets and our front streets?" It's a depressingly difficult question to answer, but we shouldn't quit trying.