Americans of a certain age well remember the halcyon and prosperous days of the 1940s through the ’70s and ’80s when most towns possessed at least one textile manufacturer and possibly a heavier industrial plant as well.
Actually, many towns had more than one textile producer and plant employing hundreds of local residents. Dozens of places were also railroad centers with fleets of freight and passenger trains passing through daily.
McComb, Miss. — my hometown — was a major rail center due to its fortunate location on the “main line of mid-America,” the 500-miles-plus north-south artery operated by the Illinois Central Railroad Co. That route was traversed daily from Chicago to New Orleans by famous passenger trains such as the “City of New Orleans” and the “Panama Limited” and freighters carrying lumber, steel and other commodities throughout the country.
Located near the Mississippi-Louisiana line and 100 miles north of New Orleans, McComb also was home for decades to railroad shops that employed up to 2,000 people in wide-ranging mechanical jobs required to keep the engines running. Many more locals held on-train positions like conductor, engineer, switchman and brakeman. Most of the railroaders were paid handsome, above-average wages for work that did not require a college degree.
That whole scene — except for the Amtrak-operated “City of New Orleans” passenger train going north and south daily — essentially played out in the mid-1970s among massive railroad cutbacks. The town was hit hard by the loss of those good jobs. Many another town knew that awful feeling then and later with the loss of their light and heavy industrial employers.
The United States simply cannot survive in the long run unless it somehow undergoes another industrial revolution and begins making “things” again. If China, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan, et al, continue to run economic/industrial circles around us, this nation is doomed without ever suffering another military blow.
Recently during the “65-mile garage sale” that began on Highway 37 in Fort Gaines and ended in Camilla, my wife was fascinated with a decorative item for sale in a store along that route. Thinking it had been produced locally, I also deemed it worthy until I realized it carried a “Made in China” tag.
I have never bought into the theory that this country could survive with a service-industry-only business atmosphere, as, I believe, some learned leaders wrongly contend. We must make stuff.
When U.S. industrialists move a plant offshore, it often seems greedy on their part. I realize that many times, it is more complicated and calculated than that, but if the move generated only slightly more profit than they could earn here, I rate it as flat-out greed. Why not make a little less money and keep more Americans working?
Failure by the U.S. education establishment can also be blamed. We have not adequately trained our workforce for today’s industrial jobs. The American home has not taught discipline, loyalty and determination — all essential to the workplace — as it once did.
There is plenty of blame to go around for our economic predicament.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald.