On the day that Gov. Sonny Perdue pulled the plug on building a new automobile assembly plant in Georgia, several other economic downers emerged.
Georgia's largest trade show, sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders, revealed that it won't be returning to Atlanta and the World Congress Center. Each year, the home builders' exhibition lured 100,000 visitors to the capital and injected an estimated $119 million in direct spending into the Georgia economy.
The announced reason for abandoning Atlanta: The show had outgrown the city. The likely real reason: Atlanta's reputation as a convention venue is deteriorating. Too much violence. Too much petty crime. Too many panhandlers. Too few attractions. Never mind glowing reports to the contrary from City Hall and the Gold Dome. The convention planners know the facts. They are moving elsewhere.
Georgia's national politicians continued to try to extend contracts for making the F/A-22 Raptor warplane at Lockheed Martin in Marietta. Many of the same politicians are strategizing to keep open as many Georgia military installations as possible in the upcoming base-closing rounds. The long-term outlook for both endeavors is not promising. China and India are said to have planes that outclass the F-22. Several Georgia bases, some in otherwise impoverished areas, are reportedly already doomed to close. Georgia has the least influential congressional delegation in its modern history. (Georgia ranks 49th among the states in per-capita federal funding of local projects. It once ranked near the top.)
A report - let's call it an unsettling rumor - has swept the ranks of UAW members in Atlanta that the Ford plant in Hapeville may be on the phase-out list. Similar rumors, true and otherwise, will grow in volume for the foreseeable future.
Delta Air Lines remains in financial trouble, meaning Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is in trouble. Such a downturn would spill over into the entire south metro area and beyond.
These are not the best of times. State government, as expected, has tried to put a smiley face on uncertainty. It proudly and repeatedly announces the creation of new employment opportunities but neglects to mention that many of these are minimum-wage chicken-plucking or forklift operator positions. What's more, many of these payroll spots are grabbed up by Mexicans whose home base is Guadalajara, not Gainesville.
Georgia is not alone in teetering on the edge of the doldrums. The malady is nationwide.
In his new book, "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century," Tom Friedman describes how India and China are overtaking the U.S. economically. Those nations are not only gobbling up our manufacturing and service jobs; they also are cornering the market on creative brainpower.
What Friedman does not describe in this book is how deeply the hurt will be felt in the South. Our people were just beginning to enjoy the fruits of the American dream when rot spots began to appear. We have been rudely awakened. Forget for a moment the unabated flow of Latinos into the region. Asians who never leave Asia are taking over the world via information technology. Call Dell or IBM or Earthlink or even BellSouth if you don't believe it.
Let's look back for a moment. Good-paying manufacturing jobs began appearing in our region in World War II. Until then, the South (including Georgia) was often treated as an American Third World - a source for cheap labor in sweatshop textile mills.
Beginning in the 1940s, military installations, defense plants and automobile assembly factories moved south in large numbers. Per capita income in the South began to catch up with the rest of the nation. Workers' benefits were promised and delivered. The predatory part of the textile industry packed up and went overseas.
Now we are in danger of sliding backward. That is why Georgia government's decision to slam the door on several hundred jobs at a proposed DaimlerChrysler plant bewilders. In this rapidly changing flat-world economy, finding high-end manufacturing jobs is as rare as uncovering fine diamonds.
The German-American auto firm wanted too many expensive incentives, the governor's administration explained. The company also refused to "guarantee" a specified level of employment, a Perdue spokesman added.
"Saying they let it go because of no guarantee? To me that's a Homer Simpson comment," Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wachovia Corp., told a reporter. "There are no guarantees in life. South Carolina got no guarantees that BMW was to expand. That makes sense."
Some observers believe the decision to shut out DaimlerChrysler was rooted in the convoluted re-election politics of Georgia's first GOP governor. (The irrational rationale goes like this: DaimlerChrylser first considered moving to Georgia when Democrats were in power. Democrats might ultimately get credit for locating the plant. So forget about it.)
In "The World Is Flat," Friedman also asserts that the United States has lost much of its enlightened political leadership. "The job of the politician in America, whether at the local, state or national level, should be, in good part, to help educate and explain to people what world they are living in and what they need to do if they want to thrive within it. One problem we have today, though, is that so many American politicians don't seem to have a clue about the flat world."
As any Southerner knows, our pols may not know much about the flat world, but they can certainly tell us what's wrong with the theory of evolution, why more secrecy in state government is a good idea and how fortunate taxpayers are to be invited to underwrite a new multimillion-dollar stadium deal for a privately owned football team.
Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Contact him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA, 30160 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . His Web address is www.billshipp.com . His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.