Your opinion: April 26, 2017

Published 5:15 pm Thursday, April 27, 2017

Americus on edge of greatness, again
A few weeks ago, my wife, Bobbie and I traveled to a small town in Alabama, called Fairhope, on business.  It is located in the Southern part of the state across the bay from Mobile. As we came into town, we noticed a great similarity with that of Americus. It is a town of about 18,000 people with a downtown area so much like that of our own fair town. The shops were full and the people that we met were extremely kind and nice and helpful. We felt like we were home. After spending a few days there, we began returning home. We began to compare Americus with Fairhope. Americus stacked up equally as well with Fairhope with two main exceptions:  they are a trash-free city and county and all of the downtown buildings were freshly painted with mostly new awnings outside.
How did they get that way and how do they stay that way? The answer came from one of the former city councilmen that we met while in Fairhope. I posed that question to him and his answer was so simple that I almost didn’t believe him. He said that it is a mindset, an attitude, that we teach our children in school and at home. It is the same teaching that we, as adults, were taught many years ago ourselves. You simply do not throw out trash. If you do see trash lying about, it is your responsibility to pick it up and dispose of properly.
Their town offers inducements to the store owners to keep their facades painted and awnings looking new and clean and fresh. We commented on that is exactly what is going on here in Americus with the 50/50 sharing partnership with the Mainstreet  Downtown Development Authority. Our congratulations to the Kinnebrew Co. to have participated in this program. The new paint ‘iced the cake’ on that building!  How often do you find a program that is willing to pay 50% of the cost to update your façade?
The former councilman also spoke of how this had made the town so successful. He said that he was totally convinced that many potential industrialists or business entrepreneurs will ride through the county and the town to see how it presents itself, i.e., how clean and neat it is. If they fail this first impression, they keep on riding to the next town. He said that he has had countless men and women tell him this … and it has paid off!
Tourism there is unbelievable. One of their main attractions is a 2-mile long antique and yard sale once a year that generates about 500,000 people. Imagine what this does to their economy in terms of lodging, food, gasoline and purchases from the downtown business owners!
We have so many great things going on here in Americus that is unique to a small town: the Rylander Theater and the Windsor Hotel are just two of them. There is more excitement going on here now than in many years. The downtown streets are full of vehicles on Friday and Saturday nights with people eating out and just enjoying being out on our safe streets.
Now, what can we do about this? A few years ago, we had Sumter Clean and Beautiful. They organized clubs, businesses and ordinary citizens to clean up our county. Everyone bought in and we had a clean and beautiful place to call our own. This didn’t last and now, look at the streets of Americus and our county road system. So much trash has been thrown out and not picked up! I guess that people are waiting for others to clean it up. It won’t and hasn’t happened.
Here are some thoughts for us to consider:
• Restore Sumter Clean and Beautiful or empower the Chamber of Commerce or One Sumter be the ramrod for a project of this magnitude. SOMEBODY HAS GOT TO BE IN CHARGE or it won’t happen. This will be an ongoing project from now on.
• Focus on cleaning up downtown first then all the main roads that enter Americus.  Example: Hwy 49 is beautiful coming into town until you get to Mayo Street or thereabouts. Since the storm of 2007, Phoebe-Sumter Hospital property has grown up into a jungle and is the source of a good bit of trash. I thought that it would be a great place to have a walking park or something of that nature. I spoke to one of the executives there and he said that this is under consideration. They could be the leader in Americus and Sumter County in this clean-up process and gain much favorable public relations within our community
• Consider having a city and county ordinance that requires all trucks to be covered when transporting trash or other materials that may blow out on the streets and roads.
• Consider having a city and county ordinance that would levy up to a $1000 fine if you are caught littering.
• Consider having flower boxes or hanging baskets with fresh flowers in the downtown district.
• Consider having your façade painted and updated if you are a downtown business or building owner.
• Clean up vacant lots in the city limits.
In conclusion, we can pay for all sorts of studies and have all sorts of meetings and talk ourselves to death in an effort to attract industries and businesses, but until we decide that we want Americus and Sumter County to really move forward, we have got to clean it up and keep it clean. Otherwise, people are going to keep on driving through. If we fail to make a good first impression, we will never have a second chance to make a good first impression. It is our choice to make.
Terry Duncan