Sustainable Growth Amid A Despairing Economy?

Any Cullowhee resident who keeps himself/herself abreast of issues concerning the community can sense a palpable change that is among us.

That change takes on many forms and will subsequently affect us in ways we may never know. These are changes that affect our local community, as well as our beloved university. Local growth and development are furthermore complicated by our seemingly ever-volatile economy. The manner in which we address these issues of change will ultimately tell the story of Western Carolina University.

A recession, in terms of economics, is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth. America’s economy, like many others, now meets that criteria. Citizens stand dumbfounded and overwhelmed as stories of foreclosures, bailouts, and economic turmoil flood the evening news. The university is taking measures to accommodate budget cuts. Faculty and staff are asked to find ways to cut back on spending. Hiring, for many university positions, will be halted. Many offices will be restructured with the goal of improving efficiency. Overall spending at the university will decrease. What is the ultimate goal? Do more with less.

The economic situation may have positive effects on Western. With the rising cost of tuition in conjunction with an ailing economy, many are looking for more affordable ways to get an education. WCU is now experiencing a record number of applications for incoming freshmen. This recent increase in the demand for quality education at an affordable price has resulted in the implementation of a fall waiting list. This may potentially improve the academic integrity of the school by giving the university more high school graduates to choose from.

The recent growth is not confined to the university, however. Jackson County as a whole is experiencing unprecedented growth and development. This is at a time when unemployment is outpacing job growth. This trend will eventually reverse itself as the economy improves. However, the community will need to welcome this growth and development in a responsible manner. The recession has come at an unlikely time, as the university grows at a drastic rate. Recent additions to the campus include the new Campus Recreation Center. Incoming students this fall will enjoy the newly built Balsam Hall, as well as the Courtyard Dining Hall.

That brings us to the focal point to which I will draw our attention. The new Courtyard Dining Hall is a great example of growth. There is no doubt a need to acclimate dining arrangements in order to offer students more choices of where to eat. There is only one stipulation that I would recommend–that we accommodate this growth while expressing a vested interest in the businesses in and around the university that are already struggling. Many of the venues in the new dining hall will be chain franchises that will move money out of the community.

Among the new arrivals to our campus is a well-known coffee shop. That coffee shop will make it harder for locally-owned places like the Cat’s Nip Café and Mad Batter to sell coffee. That is not a matter of opinion, but a fact. This is only one example of how irresponsible growth can damage a community. This article is not written to condemn the opening of the Courtyard Dining Hall. To the contrary, it should be applauded. It is commendable that the convenience store is planning to offer a line of fresh produce. It is commendable that the university has allocated money to causes that improve the students’ quality of life. What I am saying is that we cannot ostracize local businesses from this equation.

Also, this article is not advocating that all corporations be kept out, or that corporations are evil. We must understand that corporations are made up of people as well. What I am advocating is that Cullowhee, NC should not loose its identity amidst all this change. Small locally owned businesses are good for the economy. Not only do they help keep money in the region, they provide the community with a sense of identity and worth. It would be detrimental to small business (as well as ourselves) to create an economic atmosphere that does not allow locally owned businesses to thrive. Does anyone remember what happened when that big-name hardware store moved in to Sylva? Hint: Count the number of hardware stores in Cullowhee today.

Sooner than later, the economy will improve. More jobs will become available. Things will get better. Nevertheless, now, more than ever, our community needs take care of each other. It is up to the individual and to the community at large whether or not we will voice our opinions concerning this change. We have the choice to collectively take a stand as advocates for sustainable and responsible growth.

Or, we can passively sit by and leave all the decisions to the powers that be. If we choose the latter, we will forfeit any justifiable rationale with which to complain.