With the dawn of a new decade, “The Great State of Wilkes” stands at a crossroads with a decision to make. Will we continue to carry on with business as usual and hope things get better? Or, will we be bold, realize the old way wasn’t working and change for a better future?

With a new decade comes a clean slate and a fresh start. That should give hope that the next 10 years can be better than the last 10, and that 10 years from now our community will be stronger, the outlook brighter and our lives better.

Our recent economic history hasn’t been easy to swallow for most in Wilkes. Over the last 30 years, our community has taken one blow after another. First, we began losing our manufacturing, then our NASCAR races, followed by the devastating departure of the headquarters of Lowe’s Companies to Mooresville.

When Lowe’s announced that it was moving several hundred more jobs out of Wilkes in early 2019, it was a staunch reminder of how much we have lost over the years and how dire the economic situation here is. The recent news of Wilkes being moved to the N.C. Department of Commerce’s “Tier one” (most distressed) category confirms that we are in a troubling situation.

You don’t have to go far to find someone in our area to tell you their concerns about the local economy. We’ve heard it many times: “There aren’t many jobs here.” “There’s nothing for our kids to come back after college.”

We need to do everything we can to “right the ship.” Occasionally you may run into a person who doesn’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about and they seem to think everything is OK. Well, everything is definitely not OK, and we must do everything we possibly can to try and right the ship.

We are in a very fragile situation. It’s somewhat like a house of cards or a game of Jenga. How many jobs can we pull out of our area before it all comes tumbling down? When the area loses jobs, it doesn’t just affect the people who lost those jobs and their families; it indirectly affects us all.

If someone moves out of town or no longer has the same level of income he or she once had, that person won’t be spending the same amounts of money at our local businesses like he or she once did.

Many of our small businesses already run on tight margins and can’t afford to lose customers, so when they do, it puts them in jeopardy. That puts our area at risk of losing more jobs.

It’s not hard to see that things could easily take a turn for the worst if we can’t find ways to attract businesses and people to Wilkes.

With all that being said, now isn’t the time to worry about hardships of the past or to fear the future. Now is the time to decide to take a different path for the future.

We can choose to continue doing the same things we’ve been doing or we can decide to make real meaningful changes - not any sort of “pie in the sky” changes, but real, positive changes that can give us a fighting chance of not just surviving but thriving in years to come.

If we don’t make changes we’re surely headed to a bad place. You’re either moving forward or backward. If you stand still, you fall behind.

First, we must believe that taking the right steps will make things get better for our community. Second, Wilkes must have a unified vision for who we are and what we want to be. Last, we must craft a good plan and carry it out with ferocious execution. No one is going to drop anything in our laps. We must go get it!

For us to compete, it’s important that we not fear growth and the changes it brings. We should fear going along with business as usual.

We shouldn’t think growth and change will bring “bad” things to our community, but instead be concerned with the poverty we have and the prospects of it getting worse without economic growth. With poverty comes many shades of suffering - hunger, homelessness, drugs, loss of purpose and more.

Economic growth will not infringe on our long-standing values of faith and family. They’ll still be with us and serve us. Faith and family will still be our greatest assets and the fabric that holds us together.

The good news is that we can turn our situation around and have a bright future. Wilkes is a wonderful place that has a ton of potential! The history of our community is full of stories of the success of businesses, industries, entrepreneurs and visionaries. That spirit of success is here. We just have to harness it. We must renew our faith in our community and stir up civic pride in Wilkes!

The entire community must get involved.

I challenge all elected officials to think big. Expect great things to happen to our area, and remember it’s not about us… it’s about the people we serve.

Now is the time for unity! We must have a unified vision for the future for we are all in the same boat.

We must do away with the view of “two towns and the county,” for we are one single “Wilkes community.” Period. We eat at the same places, go to the same hospital and as funny as it may sound, go to the same Walmart.

We’ll all succeed together or all fail together.

It’s pretty simple, yet it seems some don’t understand that if something good happens in one town or out in the county it’s good for everyone in Wilkes. It’s the same if something bad happens.

If we want to succeed, people of all ages must get behind the idea that we must break down old mindsets that fear change and antiquated views of division that have not served our community well. A community divided against itself cannot stand. We need a united Wilkes with a strong vision for the future that embraces positive change for our community to succeed.

We need to elect officials who realize that we’re facing serious problems and expect them to take aggressive steps in the right direction. Attend meetings, let your representatives know your concerns and that you expect changes.

We absolutely can’t settle for doing things a certain way because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” We must be bold, think outside of the box and work hard to go after things we need and want for our community. We can’t let our history, politics or pride hold us back.

Getting the wheels of prosperity turning will not be easy, but it can be done. We must not get caught up in all the small details but focus on the big things that can make a real difference and result in economic prosperity. We must be willing to take big steps.

Our children and grandchildren may never know about all of the small things, but they’ll know the large steps we did or didn’t take and the results of our action or inaction.

We have a window of opportunity, so let’s take it. With hard work, smart work and God’s blessing, 10 years from now we’ll find ourselves and the community of Wilkes in a much better place than we are today.

Andrew Palmer was elected to his first term  as a North Wilkesboro commissioner on Nov. 5.

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