Stay here and attract a Chick-fil-A

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There were a couple interesting exchanges at Monday’s county commissioners between board chairman David Newell and the students who were in attendance as part of the semi-annual Local Government Day.

Local Government Day, if you’re not familiar with it, is a once-a-semester trip for students at local high schools to attend a meeting of a local government institution. Some attend the Roxboro City Council meeting. Others attend the Person County school board meeting. Still others attend a session of court at the Person County Courthouse. And a fourth group of students attend a meeting of the county commissoners.

At Monday’s meeting, Newell did his best to engage the students, which is really good, because the pessimist in me believes most students care about local government as much as their parents do – which is to say hardly at all.

At one point, Newell asked the students what they would like to see the county focus its efforts on when it comes to bringing quality of life features to the county.

Two students, almost in unison, said Chick-fil-A.

That response drew twitters of laughter, but it was a pretty good answer and those students aren’t the first people to say they’d like the fast food restaurant to bring a store here.

Newell’s response was pretty good. He told them that Chick-fil-A, like other retail businesses, studies the demographics of an area before deciding where to locate a new restaurant. He explained that if people who live in Person County will stay in Person County, the area will eventually be large enough to support a Chick-fil-A.

Of course, he’s right. But it sets up an interesting conundrum for those students when they finish their education. Do they stay in Person County and become part of the growth of the county that will draw more business and retail to the area? Or do they go where the business is and make their way more quickly?

The truth is, most people – adults and youth – will opt to go where the opportunity already exists.

Earlier in the meeting, Newell asked the students how many planned to attend college after they finished their high school educations. Most of the hands in the audience went up.

“If I told you, you could have a job paying $75,000 to $100,000 a year right out of high school without a college degree, how many of you would go to college. No one’s hand went up.

Newell was referring to the conceptual jobs he hopes will one day populate Person County’s megasite. The high-tech jobs would demand certain work skills and certifications, but perhaps not necessarily a four-year college degree. Time will tell if that ever actually comes to pass.

There is a growing sentiment that not every high school graduate needs to attend college. And, I think that’s true. Plumbers and electricians can make pretty good money without getting industrial or electrical engineering degrees from a place like N.C. State or N.C. A&T. There is a growing effort to help students who would perform better in a community college setting or in a workforce development program to avoid the pitfall a four-year university could be for the wrong kind of student.

Still, I wouldn’t want every child to think that a four-year degree or an advanced degree is a bad thing. We will always need doctors to help us heal and lawyers to help us navigate the legality of adulthood. We will always need teachers trained in how to educate students or engineers to design safe roadways.

If Newell and his colleagues succeed in establishing businesses in the megasite that pay $75,000 to $100,000 per year to workers who have less than a four-year degree, then Person County will become a real magnet for job seekers from all over the region – not just those who live here in Person County.

No one will worry then about trying to get a Chick-fil-A to locate in Person County. That company will be knocking the doors down to get its share of those people’s paychecks.

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