By Johnny Whitfeld
Had an interesting conversation last week with Rick Mercier, the town of Garner’s communication manager. I mentioned the excited energy I feel when I’m in Garner. There’s a lot to be excited about all around Garner these days.
The town is just a couple years removed from its designation as an All-America City and, honestly, Garner still feels like an All-America City. There’s always something going on. People seem happy. There’s new stuff coming to Garner all the time. More new stuff is on the way. When NC 540 is fully constructed, I suspect the town will change at an even more accelerated pace. The town’s leaders are progressive and interested in listening to new ideas.
Later that same night, I was talking to an old friend of mine and we were discussing how communities support their schools. I mentioned Garner as a place where the entire town seems to rally around its school. And, though it helps, people aren’t just proud of Garner High School because they have a good football team or a good basketball team. They are proud of their own experiences at that school. Or they are proud of the education their sons or daughters received at that school. Most people I talk to seem to appreciate the way teachers seem to genuinely care about their children.
That's noteworthy in a day and time when teachers are more pressed than ever to get their students to meet performance goals and getting through the curriculum seems to be the be-all and end-all of public education.
Whatever the reason, the Garner community rallies around its school. You could take the word "school" out of that sentence and replace it with "town" and I have the sense the sentence would be just as true. It will be interesting to see how that dynamic changes when there are two high schools in Garner. Hopefully, the community will wrap its arms around both schools equally.
People are, I think, proud to call Garner home. That applies not only to those people who grew up in Garner and remain there, but to newcomers too. They seem perfectly happy to tell someone they are from Garner.
Hopefully, that engaged community makes it easier for people like Joe Stallings and Mari Howe to sell Garner. And, while retail businesses are great, I'm not sure many folks in Garner would love to see a steady uptick in industrial relocations.
That means jobs not only for Garner residents; but also, for residents from places like Cleveland, Raleigh, Clayton and, potentially even Smithfield.
That doesn't take even take into account what it would do for the tax base. Industry is almost like free money. Almost. Industrial concerns don't generate demand for social services and, for the most part, they don't add a huge burden on police services. But they do generate a lot of property tax revenue.
Garner's civic community is also thriving. I've been able to visit both of Garner's Rotary Clubs and they are robust organizations with a lot of irons in the fire. The same could be said for the Woman's Club, the Civitan Club, the Lions Club, the veterans organizations and faith-based organizations.
The Garner Chamber of Commerce has helped grow a thriving arts community and they've made sure to keep Garner business people involved and engaged in the issues that matter to people who live, work and play in Garner. People are committed to helping other people for the sake of doing the right thing.
There's no doubt in my mind that the wheels could come off the tracks in a big way if town leaders - both elected and non-elected - aren't vigilant about managing the town's growth and taking risks at the right time.
To be blunt, Garner's a great place to invest in right now. Those who already have will reap the benefits. Those who haven't better get on the train before it leaves the station.