First let me say I’m neither in favor of or against bringing a meat packing plant to Whitehall. But I have seen what bringing a large meat packing plant to Lexington, Nebraska brought to that quiet, medium-sized town since it opened in 1990. Make no mistake, it brought a lot of business to the town that wasn’t there before but it also brought a lot of changes -- some good and some not so good. Isn’t that the way it usually works?
The town saw a significant increase in population that created a mini-housing boom. New businesses opened, not just more of the same but new ones that offered jobs in fields that weren’t there before. New skills were learned and taught. New schools were built as well as new hospital additions. More doctors, teachers and police were hired.
Since many of the new people arrived from countries to the south of the United States, those new medical, teaching and police personnel had to speak other languages than English and existing personnel had to get up to speed. In particular, police, teachers and hospital personnel were hit the hardest with a substantial influx of people they couldn’t readily communicate with and who were used to doing things quite differently than long-term residents, and sometimes those differences caused conflicts.
In addition, taxes skyrocketed to accommodate the new roads, schools, hospital and law enforcement needs. The effect was felt not just in the city itself but countywide. Lexington is the County Seat for Dawson County, which went from one of the lowest taxed counties in the state to No. 1 in just a few years and has stayed there for decades now.
It seemed that the immigrants made little effort to integrate into the local culture when they arrive thus forcing the local culture to adapt to their ways of doing things. My wife and I don’t live in Nebraska anymore but we still have family and friends who do, and so we know the problem still exists.
This sounds like sour grapes but in reality, there are many wonderful experiences that have happened because of the new packing plant and many of the new folks cherish and are thrilled to become part of the American dream and are “all in” as Americans. As with any influx of new neighbors, some are good and some not so good. We have met many really nice folks from these new neighbors. Some joined law enforcement, others became teachers, pastors, farmers and contractors. The second generation born and raised in the area seem much more receptive to the “old ways” than the first generation that were born and raised elsewhere and thus have branched out into many occupations other than meat cutting/packing. I’m sure that was also the way it was when my ancestors came to this country from somewhere else, too.
As I say, I have no leanings one way or the other but these are some of the experiences I have witnessed and it might be prudent to take them into consideration in making a long term commitment for Whitehall and Jefferson County. - Jim Pearson, Montana City