Quest for healing and recovery

Published 7:09 am Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Over the past two weeks I have watched a very sad story unfold in our small town of Blakely, Ga.

Each day has brought more alarming news of the widespread impact of salmonella contamination in one of the plants located in our community. The people of Blakely and Early County are deeply saddened by the news and our hearts and prayers go out to the families that have been affected by this event. However, we believe that from this tragic discovery, our county can, and will, become stronger.

Like many small towns across the country, Early County has been faced with the challenges of a weakened economy. Fortunately, unlike similar rural towns, we received a generous philanthropic gift from a former native of Blakely that enabled us to develop a 50-year economic revitalization program, which we call “Early County 2055.” This plan is helping our community find solutions to the daunting economic problems we face. For the past three years, the people in Early County have met difficult challenges with a combined effort and resolve as they have worked together to build a resilient economic foundation for the future.

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Jobs, new business recruitment and community welfare are at the heart of this “model” revitalization program. We have contributed our own hard-earned money, we have worked together to raise funds to build new buildings and preserve old ones, we have removed dilapidated structures and attracted investors to construct new affordable workforce housing. What remains is the most difficult—to bring new business, and therefore new jobs, into the area.

Unfortunately the perception of our community, and our county, has been tainted by this crisis, which will make it harder to attract these new businesses and employment opportunities we clearly need.

The peanut—which has, and continues to be, so vital to us, and the American economy—has been cast in a bad light by one unfortunate incident. But I know the people in Early County, and we will meet this new challenge with the same courage, enthusiasm and creativity that we have exercised in the past: working together on a vision and a concrete plan for a better economic future and quality of life for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. I hope the people in our great country will do the same, joining us as we go forward in our continued effort to restore the confidence in our community that makes Early County a great place to live.

Ric Hall Mayor, Blakely, Ga.