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Jeff Whitten: Just working for a living
editor's notes

It’s been a busy news cycle hereabouts, so much so I’m actually having to work for a living – bless my heart.

First, we’ve got the Mega-Site, yes we do. We’ve got the primary – which on Tuesday night seemed living proof that school board elections aren’t won by social media community page heroes, thank heavens.

We’ve got graduation, which for a community newspaper always ranks right there with the most important of stories of the year.

That said, I’ll spare you my incisive wit and deep thoughts.

I won’t, however, let the biggest of these three stories go without giving a column the old college try. There’ll be time to wax philosphic on the other stories – particularly the BOE election and why I think it turned into what it did – in time. Maybe.

For now, here’s what I got for a take on the Bryan County Mega-Site, which in terms of a lot of things is maybe-probably-definitely the biggest story I’ve seen in my time at the Bryan County News.

And a confession. Except for what I tacked on the end, I wrote most of the rest of this column for our website Friday evening a few hours after the event and not long after the reality started to begin to almost set in. I run it again with some pruning to save myself from reinventing this particular wheel: You know it’s a big deal if longtime WTOC bureau chief Dal Cannady is in your neck of the woods, and he wasn’t even by himself.

Reporters and anchors from local TV news stations were all over this thing like a cloud of sharp-dressed gnats, competing with slick looking social media bloggers and rumpled and sweaty print media reporters/photographers from the AP and AJC and area papers and news websites, all of us trying to find the best place to be on a day when Mother Nature turned up the thermostat and humidity and all that stuff.

That’s how big a deal the Hyundai Motor Group announcement is for not only Bryan County, but the area and the state. It’s billions of dollars worth of big.

And it’s more than that, and over time we’ll get to it.

But at its heart it’s really about down the road.

As Anna Chafin, who heads up the Development Authority of Bryan County, put it, it’s about the future. And it’s about opportunity.

It’s about opportunity for good paying careers for kids graduating from high school Saturday, and those now starting high school, and those who haven’t even started school yet.

It’s about opportunity for college kids looking to come back home and work in the same place they grew up.

And it won’t hurt taxpayers down the road, either.

In that regard, whatever incentive package the state is working out – and officials said details will be released when it’s complete – the magnitude of today’s announcement on a scale of 1 to 10 has to be somewhere around 100, and no I’m not being silly.

Diversifying the tax base and bringing in an original equipment manufacturer will help everyone who pays property taxes.

Bringing an automaker to the community will bring other employers to the area, and others.

Oh, sure there’ll be some who’ll bemoan the changes it’ll bring to North Bryan, because North Bryan is going to change. Things might go back to the way they were once upon a time, you know, when Pembroke was bigger than Richmond Hill, but that’s a story for another time.

As for the growth headed this way, I’ll probably whine some myself, because I like being out in the country away from subdivisions and traffic and strip malls and red lights and the rest of that stuff. I like small town versus big city, country versus planned communities, and I’m probably as guilty as anyone over NIMBY-ism over the years.

But as I will try to remind myself at times like this, it ain’t about me.

And I get why there was champagne and celebration and excitement, despite all the heat and dust and politicians.

What just happened is going to change a lot of things in Bryan County. Maybe some things won’t change, but a lot will.

This is big. PS. I’ve typed this out on a Friday night at home before getting ready to get up at the crack of dawn Saturday to drive to Brunswick to cover the Richmond Hill High School graduation. So call it a handful of first thoughts.

First, you see a lot of folks report that the Mega-Site is in Ellabell. I think it’s in Black Creek. It apparently depends on who you talk to. Kinda like the highway signs on 280, I gather. Headed there from the east you get Ella Bell on at least one highway sign. Then somewhere else it turns into Ellabell.

I’ve always liked that sort of laid back approach to spelling myself, being a hack editor.

Onward. About a year ago Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp rolled into town and called the Mega-Site “the hottest in the country,” and noted he wasn’t just talking about the weather.

He was in jeans then. It was sweltering.

A year later and it was sweltering all over again, and there was the governor, only in a suit amidst a sea of suits, announcing the state’s single largest economic investment project in history – as far as we know.

That the mood was celebratory and at times even jubilant is understandable. That a lot of people put in a lot of hours to make it happen should be understandable.

Government is nothing if it isn’t people. We tend, I think, to look at all government as the monolithic root of all evil, but the people who do the work more often than not do so because they have a sense of purpose and a desire to serve others.

You learn that, being around them long enough.

In this case it was Chafin, SEDA CEO Tripp Tolleson, their staff members, state folks, regional folks, local folks doing the heavy lifting. They worked hard and they made it happen – in partnership with Hyundai’s leadership, of course.

They deserve every bit of the thanks they got from peers and elected and appointed officials on Friday. To earn it, that meant hours and hours away from loved ones, their kids, their spouses, their friends.

I think they’d tell you it was worth it.

In the meantime, there’ll be plenty of time to try and cover this thing in more depth as the weeks go by. Or longer. As Bryan County Commission Chairman Carter Infinger told me Friday, “you’ll writing about this story for months.”

Years, even. Finally, this: Rumpled as I was, as all normal weekly newspaper hacks tend to get with age, for a moment or two on the night before Friday’s event I considered renting a tux.

After all, I might never got to cover a story like this again.

Update: Sorry, couldn’t resist a word or two about graduation. Hopefully, Bryan County Schools will figure something out by the time the Richmond Hill High School Class of 2023 walks the plank into the real world, or academia, or whatever happens to we humans after teenage-dom.

For the record, I got held up leaving the house (couldn’t find my wallet) and still got to Glynn County Stadium with a few minutes to spare before the 9 a.m. kickoff.

In a perfect world, at that point most of the folks attending the graduation would’ve already been in the stadium and I would have been able to wander right in only a few minutes late to the party.

Instead, I was far from alone, snarled up in graduation traffic so bad it took half an hour to get up 4th Avenue into the stadium.

I was there to take some photos and cover the thing, but I didn’t have a dog in the fight, or a kid or grandkid graduating, so I wasn’t all that worried about being there for kickoff.

Other folks did have a kid graduating, or more than one, including one grandmotherly woman who as we range-walked across the grass parking lot told me flat out, “this was a bad idea,” and another who said her graduate’s last name started with either A or B as she apologized to someone for walking in front of them on the way inside. By the time I got to the field, they were on the Ds.

It happens. One last thing. I actually got out of the stadium parking lot faster than I got in – somehow the process worked a lot smoother in reverse.

Oh boy, I thought. And then whatever it is I did to offend the graduation gods jumped up and made sure my trip away from Glynn County Memorial Stadium was just as memorable as getting there had been.

I was directed out of the stadium to the right, and after getting onto a fourlane road in the midst of a sudden squall I thought I saw a shortcut which would take me back to Highway 17, which is where I wanted to be when I headed north.

So I turned right at said shortcut, and then noticed a long line of vehicles going in the other direction.

In fact, nobody was behind me or ahead of me and I was the only one going the way I was going.

That’s about when I realized I was headed back into the stadium parking lot from the other side. And there was no way to turn around – well, there was, but it would’ve gone viral.

I gave up, pulled over onto some grass and waited for the stadium to empty.

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