In what seemed to me was the blink of an eye—never mind that experts say we blink about 50 million times in a decade—the 2010s have come and gone. Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, we say hello to the 2020s.
If we took a snapshot of Wilkes County on the last day of 2010 and compared it to today, I’d like to think that both photos would be quite similar. The lead paragraph in this newspaper’s year-in-review summed it up quite well then (and now): “Wilkes County’s economy continued to struggle in 2009, despite bright spots along the way.”
Just emerging from a worldwide economic recession that had lasted about two years, the unemployment rate in Wilkes County at the end of 2009 was 13.4%. Today, it’s about 3.9%, so that’s obviously a bright spot a decade later.
As it was at the dawn of 2010, Wilkes is one of the 40 most economically distressed counties in the state, earning a Tier 1 rating from the N.C. Department of Commerce. If there’s a silver lining there, it’s easier for Tier 1 counties to receive state and federal grants and incentive packages for economic stimulation.
The county’s population has remained largely unchanged since 2010, hovering just under 70,000 each year. The Wilkes median (middle, not average) household income in 2010, adjusted for inflation, was just over $35,000, and the most recent figure, from 2017, is $42,453. From 2016 to 2017, Wilkes made an impressive jump in the state median earnings chart, from 45th to 35th.
Despite the loss of over 1,000 Lowe’s Companies Inc. jobs over the decade, the presence of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian disaster relief organization, keeps growing in Wilkes, slowly taking away the sting from losing all of the Lowe’s corporate positions.
So, while the Lowe’s job losses make the headlines, it’s important to note that some sectors of the local economy—including retail sales revenue, construction and real estate sales as measured in 2019—are on the upswing going into the new decade.
On a more personal front, if I were to take a snapshot of myself 10 years ago, it would show I was in a very different place in my life. I was 38 years old, co-raising my three daughters as a single dad, living in Purlear and driving up the mountain every day to work for McFarland & Company in Jefferson.
In the fall of 2010, my world got turned upside down when I met Carmen Nichols, who like me was in a period of transition after divorcing our spouses. We fell head over heels in love and got married a year later.
Right before we got hitched on Oct. 7, 2011, I posted this on Facebook: “Just thinking about all the goodness on tap in the next 7 days--2 nights in a lovely mountain cabin; a commitment ceremony with my new wife and our families; 3 days at the beach; 3 days in NYC--makes me dizzy with excitement. I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet right now.”
Earlier in the year, I had turned 40 years old, a life event of grand significance. Reflecting on that milestone, I wrote: “Things I’ve learned in 40 trips around the sun: Love yourself; love others. Forgive yourself; forgive others. Laugh at yourself; laugh with others. And happiness is a gift best shared.”
The 2010s also marked a big changeup in my line of work. I took a leap of faith by resigning from my job at McFarland in August of 2014 to pursue videography as a profession. For three years, I did a good bit of traveling across the country working for Prodigy Disc, a Georgia-based manufacturer of disc golf equipment.
I made two decisions in 2017 that have proven to be wise choices: returning to the newspaper business with the Wilkes Journal-Patriot and taking up residence in historic downtown Wilkesboro. Both of those moves have made my life exponentially happier and more fulfilling.
So, looking at today’s snapshot compared to a decade ago, I consider myself a happier, more blessed man, more secure in where my feet are currently planted and more confident of where I’d like them to land in 2020.
My hope for 2020 is that we return to the golden rule of treating others the way we want to be treated. It’s become very clear that’s a hard thing to do, because these are divisive times we live in—in the political arena, especially. But we are charged to love our neighbor no matter the beliefs of that person.
Happy new year to our readers, and may you find peace, prosperity and patience in 2020.