Driving through Southwest Georgia’s Industrial Park

Tuesday morning took me on an early morning drive to Columbus along US 27.  I have been spending a lot of time lately on Seminole County’s Industrial Park expansion approved by the latest SPLOST.  Along this particular trip, I was struck that I was driving through the true industrial park of southwest Georgia.
Actually, the drive is like a timeline of agricultural progression.  There are fields stretching for hundreds of acres with circular irrigation systems putting much needed water on the flourishing crops.  A bit further north, you start to see some dry land crops in much smaller fields.  These remind me of my childhood in south Alabama.
The tractors get progressively smaller as you travel north, but they are huge compared to the tractors of my youth.  Further north still, you get into some hills that allow a great view of the horizon.  By then, you are looking at pine trees as far as the eye can see.
Along the way, you see what I call equipment graveyards.  These machines have lost their usefulness and were parked in a field.  Before long, there were other pieces of equipment beside them until it is just the place to take old harvesters and tractors.
Cell towers dot the landscape, towering above even the pine trees.  Three generations ago there was no power in this area.  Two generations ago indoor plumbing and telephones made their way into the most rural areas.  Today you can almost talk on your phone all the way to Atlanta, with the exception of two or three low areas.  You know where they are.
There are old grain bins and barns that capture what life used to be like in this area.  In the distance, you see fine homes and millions of dollars’ worth of equipment.  Bigger equipment and fewer people; a trend for the past 40 years.
US 27 is slowly coming to completion.  Having driven to Atlanta hundreds of times since the four lane project began, I feel like I have watched all of its construction.  Curves and hills are flattened out.  Water is diverted for hundred year floods and not the occasional storm.  You can almost put your car on cruise control all the way to Columbus.
When things become boring, you can count the signs, which have to be a big industry for someone in this state.  I counted 33 signs within one mile drive on US 27, in a space where there wasn’t a single home or building.  
The few things to see besides agriculture have largely been bypassed.  Blakely, Bluffton, Sutton’s Corner, Cuthbert, Lumpkin and Louvale have all seen the highway go around them.  It doesn’t mean the local police won’t come out to get you, but you don’t get to see the character of these little towns that were once the lifeblood of this part of the state.
Instead, you travel long stretches of seldom used four lanes.  There are long turn lanes that go to nowhere.  Most of the side roads are paved for the first 100 yards before turning to dirt.
The dirt changes from sandy, to rich dark brown, to bright red clay. For generations, farmers have figured out how to make a living on these different types of soils.
When I think of Seminole County’s now full industrial park, I see healthy vibrant industries all connected to agriculture.  That should not be such a surprise.  Driving a hundred miles north every economic generator I see along 27 seems to have its roots in agriculture.  
Agriculture is our economic engine and for that we can be grateful.
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Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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