“Spent enough time in that old rat race … Goin’ on back to the Delta.” from “Mississippi Moon” as performed by John Anderson
Richard Grant, a gifted English travel writer, recently authored a compelling book entitled “Dispatches from Pluto.” Grant and his girlfriend leave Manhattan and purchase a gorgeous, unoccupied Delta home, situated on two rural acres between an oxbow lake and Mississippi’s Yazoo River. The topography, speech patterns, attitudes and pace of life are completely foreign, but they soon assimilate and thrive. Having moved to the Gulf Coast from Chicago in 1981, I could relate to their culture shock.
Grant’s biggest problem is his homestead. After the first heavy rain, the plaster in his bedroom ceiling cracks and a sizable leak ensues. Even with two fireplaces, keeping warm with the antiquated heating system is problematic. Outdoors, armadillos root up his vegetable garden nightly. Alligators venture into the yard, poisonous snakes slither from the brush, hordes of mosquitoes and angry wasps pepper the property. Nearby fields are dusted with toxic chemicals. Poison ivy is as abundant as kudzu. Dead animals populate every blacktop road. That’s so Delta, as his friend Martha says. Socially, Grant isn’t truly accepted in the community until he participates successfully in a Labor Day dove hunt.
The economic and social report is fascinating. Ninety percent of the cotton grown in Mississippi finds its way to China. Most comes back in the form of clothing. Grant’s newest acquaintance is an erudite, 93-year-old former CIA agent who holds court on any subject in several languages. Actor Morgan Freeman, who also chooses to live nearby, becomes a frequent golfing partner.
Tourism, particularly from visitors searching for authentic blues music and juke joints, is one of the few growing industries. The general economic theme is decay: decline in population, the downward spiral in the quality of public schools, and a dearth of economic opportunities. Businesses that do thrive must consolidate and offer a myriad of services, such as “Fireworks and Deep-Fried Turkeys” and “Meat and Furniture.”
Human interaction there is satisfying and pleasant, but there is a great need for progress. Even internet connections are sometimes undependable. The area ranks poorly in most quality of life categories, a fact that is at odds with the affection that residents feel for their communities. A young politician voices this criticism. “They forget about economics,” he says. “They forget about job creation.” There is an undercurrent of fear, the fear of change; the fear, in many cases, more powerful than the poverty.
Denizens of the Delta are not alone. Every American community is being forced to adapt to the new entrepreneurial paradigm. It’s scary. But finding a way to compete in the new global economy is no longer just an opportunity. It’s a mandate.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column "Arbor Outlook," is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.