Column by Chris Graham
Lee Wolverton and I don’t agree on much, so when we agree, that means something. And we agree that Waynesboro is facing a critical challenge.
Lee has seen what we both think is happening to Waynesboro happen elsewhere. A small town struggles with its identity when the factories close up shop, and then one day, time has passed it by.
Time hasn’t yet passed Waynesboro by, but we’re running out of time as far as efforts to prevent that from happening are concerned. My recognition of that fact is what made me run for city council, and my approach to crafting a solution is what pushed Lee, despite our obvious philosophical differences, into endorsing me for the Ward B seat this past spring.
Which is why I was proud to get an e-mail from Lee a few weeks ago inviting me to take part in the River City 2020 initiative that he is getting off the ground under the auspices of the News Virginian. We met for lunch last week to talk about the project, still very much in its infancy, and I committed to being an active player in the process of recruiting people in and around Waynesboro to work together on a regular basis for the next few months to lay out a vision for the future of Waynesboro.
There’s no disagreement among those on either side of the local political aisle that we need to keep the costs of local government in line as much as possible, but more and more we’re also seeing that we need to do certain things to get our city in a position to be able to provide for a better quality of life for its citizens. The challenge is out in front of us all. Our economy is largely retail-based, our infrastructure is in a state of disrepair, and 20 percent of our ninth-graders aren’t graduating high school on time. Nearly half of our students are part of the free or reduced-lunch program in our public schools. Unemployment is at a high in terms of our recent history, and underemployment is a bigger problem than most would care to recognize.
And yet we have so much potential. Our tradition here of hard work and high worker productivity is a great building block and draw for potential industrial and manufacturing suitors. And our location basically at the hub of Charlottesville and the economic engine that is the University of Virginia and Harrisonburg and the economic engine that is James Madison University gives us a unique opportunity to attract the industry of the 21st century. The future of industry is in the kinds of technological innovations that will come out of UVa. and JMU and the former Stanford Research Institute that is now working with both of our region’s major universities on the next computer mouse and the next Internet, to name two projects that SRI led in its early years in California.
At some point soon the Charlottesville-Harrisonburg corridor will come to resemble the North Carolina Research Triangle. All we’re really waiting for is the third leg.
Maybe that’s Waynesboro. With a revived manufacturing sector, a revitalized downtown, a flood of visitors from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, and the retail base that we’ve seen take shape in the past six years, the sky really is the limit for our humble hometown.