Andrew Dys

Maybe Titanium can help fix the broken American Dream

INDIAN LAND -- As many as 300 customer-service jobs in this economy is nothing to sneeze at. But what does Titanium Holdings, a company that announced it wanted to come to this place that isn't even a town, actually do?

Titanium is the go-between between mortgage companies and people one step from living on the street. People so close to foreclosure they likely can't afford the U-Haul to carry the stuff out before the burly cops lock up the front door.

I hope this company succeeds. But this is what job creation around here has been reduced to: Companies that act like Fat Clemenza of "The Godfather." Setting up the face-to-face between the guy who lent and the guy who can't pay. Take a cut for brokering the deal. A deal that had to be set up because of real people losing jobs and being broke.

The state Commerce Department sent out a big news release about this great day in the economic development world. The new company's address is listed as Fort Mill. Technically, many addresses in Indian Land -- in Lancaster County -- have a Fort Mill address. Except they are in a different county than Fort Mill in York County and closer to Charlotte and North Carolina than Fort Mill.

Fort Mill -- and Lancaster, and Chester, too -- used to be a strong-shouldered place where Springs made fabric for the world. Now the fabric is made in Brazil and Mexico by laborers who work dirt cheap, and all that Springs makes in Fort Mill is decisions and money.

Lancaster County's boosters say they hope to fill some of the 300 jobs with the 650 people who worked in customer service for Springs but now don't because Springs doesn't have those customer service jobs.

Fort Mill used to be where stuff was made. Now, Indian Land -- what bureaucrats and the post office call Fort Mill -- is where companies come with computers and phones and make sure broke people don't have to live in shelters.

"Indian Land used to be what we called 'the country,'" said Charlie Powers, mayor of Fort Mill for a quarter-century until last year. He knows about places that make stuff: This mayor worked for Bowater, which makes paper products. He was a factory man himself. "You went through the country to get where you were going."

Citi Financial and Wells Fargo came in recent years to great heraldry and to employ thousands in customer service in northern York County. The address also is called Fort Mill, but it's closer to Charlotte than Fort Mill the town. But Wells Fargo taking over Wachovia, and Citi's own troubles, mean hundreds of those jobs -- maybe more -- are ready to die.

Area companies used to be filled with local workers. When Celanese opened its huge textile plant along the Catawba River in the 1940s, a place called "Rock Hill Homes" was built -- more than a thousand houses off Cherry Road behind Richmond Drive school for new workers to live in.

But the other reality is that Celanese closed a few years ago. It employs nobody.

There are homes being built in Indian Land all the time, but not for these new jobs in service to prevent foreclosure. There is no guarantee -- none -- that any of those 300 jobs will be filled by a single person from York County or even Lancaster County.

This new business that Columbia politicians think is in Fort Mill probably will boom. Bankruptcies, caused by foreclosures, have soared. A company called RealtyTrac shows at least 366 homes in York County in foreclosure, 249 in Lancaster County and 42 in Chester County. The most recent foreclosure was Tuesday, on a Rock Hill street called Baylor Drive.

I went down that street Friday afternoon. One- and two-story houses filled with dreams. Pickup trucks, newer-model cars, nice lawns. "For sale" signs -- three of those on the little street. One of those houses had a sign in a darkened window that threatened "No Trespassing."

Maybe this company that brings mortgage holders and those who can't pay the mortgage together is economic development. Maybe a company renting space on the second floor of a building in Indian Land can employ people to help fix the broken American Dream on Baylor Drive.