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Editorial: A history of missed opportunities

Dart to the prickly reception outsiders sometimes get when they try to do business in Rowan County. Midwest Display withdrew its proposal for a Christmas light show in Summit Corporate Center when Commissioner Tina Hall asked more questions about finances than Midwest and local partner Miller Davis Studios were willing to tolerate. Unfortunately, the experience was not unprecedented.
Split votes over tax incentives for industry have come up a few times in recent years, but Salisbury-Rowan’s persnicketiness goes back much further than that.
James Brawley’s history of the county, “The Rowan Story,” tells of several opportunities Salisbury had to become a major railway hub in the late 19th century, but local leaders put forth no effort.
“Salisbury was the natural geographic center of the Piedmont section and at the terminus of two of the most important roads in the state, yet other towns and cities without the advantages possessed by Salisbury captured them,” Brawley wrote. He cited a Charlotte Observer editorial from 1887 that said Salisbury had been the leading town of this region up to the Civil War, but “the people laid down and slept on their opportunities.”
Lying down is less of a problem now than hyper-scrutiny and plain old suspicion. But back to Brawley’s book:
“The Atlanta and Charlotte Airline railroad, built soon after the war, should have been the connecting line direct from Salisbury to Atlanta, but the Salisbury people … were not up to the emergency. Charlotte offered the railroad company a present of $200,000 and thus became the eastern terminus while Salisbury said nothing and let it go. Salisbury was actually 40 miles nearer Atlanta than Charlotte. …
“It seems that the attitude of ‘getting something for nothing’ pervaded the whole philosophy of Salisbury during the crucial period of industrialization of the county in the 1880s.”
The textiles and tobacco industries mushroomed in cities like Durham, Greensboro and Charlotte. “Before the war, not one of these cities was larger or more prosperous than Salisbury,” Brawley said. “But after the war they grew by leaps and bounds while Salisbury experienced a growth in populaton of about 20 percent per year during the 1880s. Even at that rate the town should have numbered 33,000 by the turn of the century, a figure that has not been realized to this day.”
Brawley wrote that in 1953. Some things have changed ó the prosperity of the textiles and tobacco industries, for starters. But some things have not changed. The “something for nothing” attitude toward industry sounds all too familiar.

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