This second edition of Breakfast At Midway combines the best of the original book with newer essays, anecdotes, and articles relating to quality of life, work, and place. Many of these are published in print here for the first time, while several have previously appeared in publications such as the Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News & Observer, Business North Carolina, Chamberlines, the Charlotte Business Journal, and Business View. Taken as a whole, they offer unique insight into the interconnected worlds of corporate business development and economic development.
Myths And Legends
Like any other aspect of a community, economic development has its share of associated myths and legends. These generally center around game-changing opportunities that "got away," usually due to the actions (or inaction) of "local leaders." In Statesville, where I spent ten years before coming to Anson County, the economic development myth was that they wanted to build the retail complex that would eventually become Concord Mills just outside of town at the junction of Interstates 40 and 77, but the city refused to let them build it there.
The 900-acre property where they supposedly wanted to build is referred to locally as the Peppercorn site, and I will admit that Peppercorn Mills does have a nice ring to it, but that's about the only part of this myth that has any validity. Peppercorn was one of perhaps a dozen sites in the Charlotte region that met the development company's core criteria of available acres, basic infrastructure, and high Interstate visibility, so, yes, it was listed among potential sites early in the process, but it was never seriously in play. It was always considered too far from population centers, and surface road access to the Interstates was problematic.
Legend had it that local officials were against the project for a variety of reasons ranging from corruption to stupidity, but in truth, they had nothing to do with the decision whatsoever. The site off I-85 where the project was eventually located, and a couple of others that made the shortlist, were simply better. In the case of Concord, it already had a very robust local road infrastructure built for access to the nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway and was perfectly located in the dead-center of the region. At the end of the day, geography usually wins.
Here in Anson County, the enduring economic development legend is that back in the 90s, a well-known beer company wanted to locate a brewery on the banks of the Pee Dee River near Lilesville, but the county would not let them because the elected officials at the time were against the production of alcohol. I will not pretend to know all the details of this, because it was well before my time, and the records are spotty, but, from what I can determine, the brewery legend is probably similar to Peppercorn Mills in that a site meeting the company's criteria was identified but didn't make the cut for technical reasons. Given the rancor which last year's county-wide alcohol referendum stirred up, I have no doubt that a brewery would face some nominal opposition. Still, I have a very hard time believing, and there is no evidence to support the idea, that community leaders would have sacrificed hundreds of great jobs with an iconic company and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue over some philosophical brouhaha. After all, the Jack Daniels distillery in Tennessee is located in a dry county. The beer company simply found a site they liked better.
While economic development myths and legends vary by community, they all share some similarities. The focus of the legend is usually a famous brand, and the project in question usually involves a high-profile opportunity that would have had a transformative impact on the local economy. There is also typically a kernel of truth, i.e., the site actually was in consideration for the project, or the company actually did express an interest in the region. Local officials - generally, but not always elected officials - are blamed for the project going elsewhere. Often, some sort of corruption is cited as the reason; the officials have competing economic interests or are being "paid off" by someone or something that opposes the project. Occasionally, philosophical differences or just plain incompetence are noted. It is perhaps not surprising that many of these myths have their origins in political campaign rhetoric.
And finally, the myth often relates to a community's perceptions of its economic position. Statesville has traditionally felt underserved from a retail standpoint. At the time the brewery legend started, Anson County was mourning the loss of lower-skill jobs in its traditional industries of the type a brewery would create. And in that revelation, there may be a valuable lesson for economic developers in these myths and legends.