Mount Airy much better off than most towns

On Thursday we ran a story by staff writer Terri Flagg about a list of the ten worst North Carolina cities in which to get a job, according to the website

Mount Airy was eighth on the list (with No. 1 being the worst spot).

Terri did a nice job talking with local leaders, pointing out how some of the statistics in the report were outdated and no longer relevant, at least as far as Mount Airy’s job market was concerned. Many of those local officials she talked to rightfully pointed out much that has changed in the city over the past few years.

All of which calls into question the veracity of the report.

In addition to the statistical issues many have with the report, I also find it doesn’t pass what I call the smell test. It just doens’t smell right. Or maybe it doesn’t look right.

I say that because I’m familiar with many of the other cities on the list, and I can tell you there’s a world of difference between Mount Airy and some of those places.

In the ones I’m familiar with, the downtown areas are virtually ghost towns, with closed and boarded-up buildings on Main Street, where the majority of the so-called shopping district is found. Unemployment in those cities runs higher than Mount Airy, city governments have no money — and in some cases no apparent desire — to spur significant changes, and the city simply looks and feels bleak, like there’s nothing going on and no hope.

Not so in Mount Airy.

First of all, we have an active economic development organization that has done a pretty nice job in recent years not only bringing new jobs to the area, but in helping existing business and industry expand, either providing new jobs or saving existing ones.

Second, the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners has worked hard and consistently over the years to bring about improvements to the city — whether it be with matching grants or helping with downtown development, continual work on the greenway and similar outlets to improve the quality of life, or lowering the city’s tax rate to make it more attractive to businesses and individual residents.

All the while the city has amassed enough money in its year-end general fund balance to fund additional projects or handle significant emergencies that might come up (and yes, some could argue the fund is too large, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Yes, Mount Airy has an employment rate of 5 percent, which is high enough to show we still haven’t overcome the loss of the textile industry, and many of the jobs that have come here in recent years are service-industry ones, which tend to pay less than the old manufacturing positions.

By comparison, let’s look at the jobless rate in some the other cities on that list: Roanoke Rapids is 7.8 percent, Henderson is 8.2 percent, Lumberton is 8 percent, and Laurinburg is a whopping 10 percent.

And I’d bet many of the economic development officials in those areas would be willing to do almost anything to have the thriving, expanding tourism industry we have here, or to have a downtown that’s filled with shoppers like Mount Airy is most days.

No, Mount Airy doesn’t necessarily offer the quantity of entertainment, cultural arts, or general “stuff” to do as areas such as Charlotte or Greensboro might.

But then again we don’t have the same level of crime, residents don’t lose 30 minutes to an hour each day sitting on clogged highways, and we continue to enjoy local school systems consistently ranked among the best in the state.

All in all, I’d say plenty of folks like life in Mount Airy, and while I join them in wishing we had more economic diversity and opportunity, the truth is Mount Airy continues to make slow but steady strides in that direction as well.

John Peters is editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 336-719-1931.

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