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Reflections

The Valley Capitalized On Trend To Entice Yankee Companies To Relocate

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  Over the years the South has been accused of attracting factories and businesses by offering tax credits and cheap labor.

Let me take you back to the end of World War II when the only local plants with a small work force was Kraft Cheese and the stave mill. There was also a small work force for the railroad in the depot and included the running men such as fireman, engineers, and conductors. The railroad also employed a section crew with a foreman.

The rest of the work force worked in stores, funeral homes, garages, and service stations. Wages were very low as Jim Peacock and I can attest – I worked for a funeral home and he for a service station. There were more people looking for work than there were jobs available.  You either took a sub standard wage or left town for Memphis or other cities for a decent paying job.

 I remember when O.V. Newman hired me he said he’d  appreciate it if I’d  keep my  salary confidential. He shouldn’t have worried because I was just as ashamed as he was.          

After two years, with the encouragement of my friend, Cecil Sager, I went  to work for Standard Coffee company and I doubled my previous salary the first week. As usual I digressed before I got into the theme of this column.  

In 1945 the Jaycees and other business leaders approached  various northern and mid-western companies to entice them to come to Water Valley.  Finally a deal was struck with the Rice-Stix manufacturing company of St. Louis, and they agreed to build a factory in Water Valley.  

At first a temporary facility was set up in the gym for training purposes and the first employees were hired.  My mother and Arnold Carothers   mother were some of the first hired.  Neither  stayed long, as they realized with  piece work that younger people were needed to make the quotas. Their employment at Rice-Stix was more a symbolic  gesture, showing their support for the new company.  

Property belonging to the railroad was acquired and the section house and a rental house were torn down. The factory building was constructed – it still stands but not in use.  

There were the usual uninformed critics who said that men quit working and drove their wives to work  instead. The fact was that money was coming into the local economy and people could start buying  refrigerators, cars and other things they had been unable to buy.  In a few years BorgWarner and Mott’s chicken processing plant found Water Valley a hospitable place and the local economy prospered  even more.

 So what did the northern cities do when faced by the loss of their manufacturing bases?  Like good liberals always do, they raised taxes and imposed more restrictions on businesses and bad-mouthed the south for tax breaks and cheap labor.  Go to the grocery stores and other business places and see the late model cars in the parking lots and see the well dressed people who drive them and come to your own conclusions.  

A side bar to Jim Peacock’s situation.    Jim went to work as a brakeman on the extra board of the railroad and on his first trip made almost double what it had taken him a week to earn at the service station.  

We both kept those jobs until we enlisted in the Air Force.   This column is  a tribute in memory of  the farsighted people who overcame many obstacles to keep Water Valley a viable town and a great place to live.  

Let me hear from you as I always appreciate your input and try to use it whenever possible.  My email address it cncooper1@hotmail.com or write me at P.O. box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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