The bleak reality of Siler City’s economy

By Christopher Havel

Siler City, NC – As reviled as VinFast is already — not exactly a good portend of things to come, as such things are — having only barely entered the market, I kind of view it as a desperation move. For once, I don’t blame them — look around.

There’s all sorts of things happening at Chatham Park, for better or worse as your opinion may go. I’ve heard plenty of noise about this and that other industrial stuff coming in — and it’s all just out of economic range of Siler City, which is where I live. The VinFast plant is the one thing that sorta-kinda breaks that trend.

Funny thing, that.

Most of what I’ve heard barely even affects Pittsboro, let alone Siler City. Sure, there’s Chatham Park, but that’s really just a big huge mess by all accounts I’ve heard. The rest? Not going to affect any of us, really, not in any meaningful way.

Let’s just rip the bandage off already. The economy here in Siler City is more dead than a coffin floating down the river. Don’t believe me? Go stand outside the post office here at high noon and look at the traffic. Now go stand outside the McDonald’s (or the Burger King, there’s no difference), and watch Highway 64. Same time of day. Mentally subtract all the vehicles that are just passing through and will never stop in this town unless there’s an emergency of some sort. The closest we have to a “roadside attraction” is the long-forgotten house of a crazy cat lady who only matters to people who remember when television wasn’t in color and think that things were better back then. (I politely disagree.) The nearest movie theater is 45 minutes away in Apex. The second-nearest movie theater is the pair of screens in Sanford, if they even survived COVID — I don’t know and I don’t care, and chances are, neither do you.

There are no jobs here, except for the usual bottom-end retail and fast-food dead end material that doesn’t pay anyone enough any more to be a truly viable career option unless you aspire to slaving yourself away at two or even three of them at just barely not full-time (so they can squeak out of giving you proper benefits) to make rent and not starve. Last I heard, even the chicken plant had a waiting list a mile long, and that’s just sad. Of course, there’s always migrant farm work, but… well, I think that one episode of Stephen Colbert says it all in regards to that.

Even if there were jobs, there’s hardly anywhere to live. From what I’ve heard in the past, most houses that go on the market here are almost instantly bought for well above asking, and promptly ‘flipped’ as multi-family rentals with obscenely high monthly prices because they know you’ll find a way to pay if it means you aren’t literally living in a tent in the woods. It’s been a while since I heard that, sure, but my source is not one I’d question, and I’ve not heard anything contradictory since.

No jobs, no housing, nothing to do. No wonder I keep hearing rumors going around of a nascent drug problem. Most people aspire to far more than watching television till they fall over dead one morning, and they’re going to be quite unhappy without the things that enable that — and if they can’t get real happiness, they’ll settle for the chemical stuff. It’s just human nature.

So, sure, VinFast has real long odds at best — but as pathetic as it is to admit, it’s the best we’ve got… by default. I usually don’t go for the “if you’ve got a better idea, let’s hear it” school of defense, as I find that option one of the weakest there is, but I’ll be honest, I’ve got nothing else with this one. If we want a better choice, folks, we’d better get to work, coz I do believe we’re right about on our own here.

After all, when you see the “Holiday Tours” buses barrel through at high noon on a Friday, and it’s so hot the pavement about turns itself to lava, but the buses don’t even slow down as the traffic lights make way for them… and they barrel on past that McDonald’s, the only one in a 30min drive of here, no matter what road you take, going full tilt. I mean, it only takes a couple of times of that happening for you to realize just what kind of town you live in. Siler City isn’t a ghost town, not yet, not really — but it’s even more of a dead man walking than Sean Penn was in that old movie… and mark my words, if something doesn’t happen between now and then, ain’t one single town in the whole county that’s gonna come out any different. It’s only a matter of time. As far as I’m concerned, the lucky ones are the folks in the U-Haul trucks out of here and on their way to a life somewhere better, and if we want to change that, we’ve got our work cut out for us, metaphorically and otherwise.

Also, a shout-out to ChathamPatriot for having the courage to holler out at volume with what I’ve been trying to voice in my own quiet way for years now. Electric vehicles are greenwashing at best. Lithium mining is nasty, nasty business, even without taking the politics of most of it into account (and them’s some right thorny stuff there, too) and the rest of it isn’t really all that much better, especially when it’s really just kicking the can down the road. Funny thing, it’s all kind of pointless, anyways — vehicular emissions are the most prominent source of climate change gases in our daily lives, but they’re by no means the biggest. They’re actually fairly far down that tree. I still remember a broadcast on NPR that talked about that, shortly after Former President Obama won his first election waaay back in 2008. (Remember then? I daresay the world was better at the time. Certainly it was more innocent.) A pair of farmers wrote an open letter to the then-incoming President, and NPR read it on-air and talked about it for a good while thereafter.

I don’t have a link to the old show on NPR, but The Guardian has a copy of the letter. You can read it here and it will tell you plenty, even now, even today. I have to say, it saddens me a bit that, as far as I know, they never really got a proper response from him, although, to be fair, he was quite busy while he was in office.