Economic Secession (Update 2)

Back a few decades people used to talk about how New York City or San Francisco or wherever might as well saw themselves off from these here Uniteds because they just didn’t fit in.  It was a kind of Republican sneer, but the image was somehow vivid.  I live in the Research Triangle, a kind of amorphous region that definitely includes Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, and, as well, a number of other communities, some inside the imaginary triangle formed by those three major towns, some outside the lines but, well, still in the stadium at least.  One way to tell who’s in the Triangle is to look at the Area Code.  If it’s 919, you’re probably in.  210 and you’re heading towards Wilmington and the Sand Hills.  336 and you’re in the Piedmont Triad.  252 and you’re Down East.

Back ten years or so Siler City got moved from 919 to 210.  There were complaints, and we got our 919 back.  What that meant was that the whole of Chatham County, west to east, north to south, all “faced” towards the gravity of the Triangle.  Bidness was mostly done in that direction, and folks who were looking to buy a piece of rural land to build a house on—or for a few movers and shakers, a bigger piece of land to build a subdivision on—saw Chatham County as in the ambience.

But the people who have sat on the Town Board of Siler City since before Aunt Bea moved there to retire haven’t paid much attention to all this fooferrah about the Research Triangle.  Luther Hodges, who dat?  They, or their parents, are after all First Citizens of Siler City, a town that grew up at a crossroads back in the late 1800s, and developed its economy on textiles and furniture making and, when I first moved here in 1978, Chatham Dog Food.  Siler City officially didn’t much care about the 919 Area Code.  They remembered that dog food plant that burned down in about 1981 and still stunk up the place until after Reagan finally left office.  Indeed, there’s still a big vacant block in the middle of downtown.

We all know what happened to textiles.  They left NC about the same time Reagan left government for the funny farm.  Around here we got big chicken processing plants staffed with thousands of Mexicans, mostly of alleged illegal entry status.  (We like our cheap chicken in this heah America.)  But the Town Fathers have been fretting about getting some kind of new industry ever since that dog food plant went up in smoke, and they don’t really count a nice winery than came in so close to Siler that they put Siler City in the name of the wine.  Maybe it’s the alcohol issue—Chatham was dry when I moved here.  Maybe it’s just that wine is too “cultured,” too outside, or just too outside the imagination.

At any rate, next Monday, June 5, Siler City’s commissioners are going to vote Siler City right out of the Research Triangle.   They’re going to install a major new business, a heavy industry that generates a lot of noise, dust, and traffic and will be operating for at least 75 years, within earshot of the Siler City post office.  This business, ISP Minerals, will probably lower the water table in an already dry part of the county, since quarries are fundamentally big well shafts—that’s why quarries fill up with water.  The grinding and blasting will be going on pretty much 24/7, and the dump trucks will number about 300 per day.  The plant, which will produce those tiny dyed rocks that are painted onto asphalt roofing shingles, will stand some ten stories high.  There will be new rail traffic on that line that runs right through the heart of town.  Running a Winery beside such a business will not be possible, and Horizon Cellars of Siler City will close.  Probably other heavy industry will arrive, as soon the Siler City area will be a perfect location—each new grinder and polluter will say, “look at ISP, y’all were fine with that.”

There will probably be some new jobs a-comin’ too.  There will be some guys running outside heavy equipment, and some other guys running inside heavy equipment.  There will be a handful of nice fellows in suits who will go to the Baptist Church or the Methodist Church.  There will not be unions, because North Carolina and unions are like oil and water.  There will also not be any more of those folks from the Research Triangle who are looking for a nice piece of rural land to live on.  Pittsboro will be known as the Edge of RTP.  Out here in “deep Chatham,” we’ll be in the foothills, or the edge of the sandhills. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get that 210 Area Code eventually.  It doesn’t much matter, and ISP Minerals will surely have an 800 number.

Eventually, the town as a whole is going to notice that plant.  I think the blasting and the general roar will be quite audible from the Post Office steps, as will the dust on some days.  The audible presence will be most noticeable from the Siler City Country Club, which looks like it abuts the quarry property.  Might be some of the Town Board belongs to the Club?  Maybe that’ll make for some spirited conversation over the G&Ts five years out.

Nobody much who’s an adult today will see the end of ISP-Minerals, though most of us will see the spring at Mount Vernon Springs stop, at last, after running for longer, probably, than there was a United States.  So remember this day, Monday, June 5.  The day Siler City left the Triangle.  And don’t blame ISP Minerals either.  It was Siler City that cranked up the chain saw and sawed off the limb they were sitting on.  –Bill Hicks

[photo from ]

--Bill Hicks

See also:
Part 1 of this topic: Data Mines and Rock Quarries
Part 3 of this topic: Yes Men
From the Chatham Journal Weekly: Will ISP Minerals be a good neighbor?

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