Listicles, once the hot clickbait of the internet, evidently are still a tool some websites use to garner page views from curious web surfers. Most of the time, they’re just pabulum masquerading as news.
Such is the case with a listicle the online magazine Business Insider published last week, tallying up America’s 50 most miserable cities. Among the criteria used to measure a city’s “miserable” ranking were “few opportunities,” crime, addiction rates and abandoned buildings.
And wouldn’t you know it, but Danville came in at No. 46, the only city in the Old Dominion to make the cut. To top that off, a television station up U.S. 29 decided to post a story about “Danville, the miserable city” on its social media feed with the little tagline for readers, “What do you think?”
Well, you can imagine the venom and snark spewing from the keyboards of the stable geniuses of the internet. We won’t bother repeating any of the invectives hurled at Danville.
What we will do, however, is strongly and vehemently make the case that Danville, Pittsylvania County and Southside Virginia are far from hotspots of misery, but rather are hotspots of opportunity for progressive, forward-thinking entrepreneurs and and businesses.
First, let’s get somethings out of the way right off the bat.
Yes, Danville has faced economic challenges over the past 30 years as the textile industry began contracting in the early 1980s leading to its eventual collapse in the mid-1990s, as the tobacco industry underwent fundamental changes following the nationwide settlement with cigarette makers in 1998 and as the domestic furniture industry all but collapsed. All occurring virtually simultaneously.
Yes, as a result, Danville’s population has undergone a decline since the 2000 U.S. census. And yes, 21 percent of our residents live in poverty, posing challenges for public education, delivery of social services and economic development.
But here’s the thing: The data compiled and processed by the wonks at Business Insider, located who-knows-where in cyberspace, and featured by media outlets hungry for page clicks and social media interaction times simply does not tell the full story of this city and its people. It may paint a picture of what the past was like, but it in no way whatsoever is indicative of today or where this city is headed in the future.
First, let’s take a look at the efforts of local leaders to build a modern city for the 21st century on the foundation of its past and its history.
Tobacco and textiles made Danville into a regional powerhouse in the early to mid-20th century. They provided good jobs and contributed to the Danville we know today. Now, though, those industries are gone, leaving behind empty buildings that some naysayers might see as “miserable.”
We, however, choose to see some iconic architecture that will make the Danville of tomorrow. We’re talking about Dan River Inc.’s White Mill, sitting on the shores of the Mighty Dan. Then there are the 19th century tobacco warehouses downtown in the River District. And don’t overlook the stunning Danville Family YMCA that graces downtown.
For the past decade, the city has been making infrastructure investments in the district, building up a foundation the private sector has taken advantage to transform these structures into lofts, restaurants, retail shops and breweries. And guess what? People are flocking to them, pushing up values and driving an increase in real estate tax revenues.
Now, let’s take a look at what Business Insider claimed is a “lack of opportunities” in Danville.
Our first response is simply, “Baloney!” Which is followed up by a recitation of the new jobs and manufacturers coming to our region. They’re jobs and companies coming here because of the education and training investments we’ve made that build upon the region’s textile history, jobs that provide opportunities for graduates of any of the several precision machining programs at local schools and colleges, jobs that come here because business owners know a good opportunity when they see one.
So, to the folks at Business Insider and the politicians who like to portray Danville as a community on the brink of oblivion, we have just one thing to say: You don’t know the Danville of today and the vision we have of the Danville of tomorrow.