News / USA

Voracious Bug Paved Way for Southern Town's Prosperity

Boll weevil taught Alabama community hard lesson about economic survival

Multimedia

Audio
Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

A statue on Main Street in Enterprise, Alabama, features a woman holding a large, black boll weevil above her head.
A statue on Main Street in Enterprise, Alabama, features a woman holding a large, black boll weevil above her head.

While many U.S. cities have suffered because of the recession, one town in the southern state of Alabama, has fared surprisingly well. The town of Enterprise has applied a turn-of-the-century economic lesson, learned from an agricultural pest.

Like many American small towns, Enterprise, Alabama has a monument in the middle of Main Street. But it's not a statue of a Civil War general, or a local lawmaker. It's a statue of a woman with white robes and long hair.

Her arms are thrust high into the sky, and she holds aloft a giant black bug.

It's a boll weevil.

Ironic tribute

Almost a century ago, this small, voracious beetle migrated north from Central America, eating its way through U.S. cotton fields. Swarms of boll weevils destroyed two-thirds of the cotton crop in this region.

But soon after, the town built a monument to honor the bug. Local historian Scott Smith points out the irony.

"How a pest that really caused so much economic hardship, oddly contributed to great changes in agriculture and to the prosperity of this region."

When boll weevils destroyed the cotton harvest in 1915, it was devastating. Until then, cotton had been the region's largest crop.  But the infestation actually gave local farmers an opportunity to try something new. They planted a different crop the boll weevil couldn't harm: peanuts.

After boll weevils destroyed the cotton crop, Enterprise soon produced more peanuts than any other region in US.
After boll weevils destroyed the cotton crop, Enterprise soon produced more peanuts than any other region in US.

 

Thriving new industry

Today, a few blocks up from the Boll Weevil Statue, conveyor belts carry rivers of peanuts to be cracked and ground at the Sessions Company. Chairman Mo Sessions' great-grandfather was the first person to make peanuts profitable in Enterprise.

"He heard that peanuts were an alternative to cotton," Sessions explains. "And so he procured some peanut seed and planted peanuts in the summer of 1916. So ever since then our family has been in the peanut business."

By 1919, the region produced more peanuts than any other in the U.S. - bringing in millions of dollars to the local economy. But farmers had learned the hard way they couldn't rely on just one crop, so they planted more corn, peaches, and figs.

After the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crop, farmers diversified, deciding never to rely on just one crop.
After the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crop, farmers diversified, deciding never to rely on just one crop.

More diversity

As the decades went by, other non-agricultural industries came to Enterprise, including the U.S. Army.

Every day helicopters from an army post right outside town fly overhead. Fort Rucker is the center for the Army's helicopter training school. Some people call the place 'Mother Rucker' because so many aviators cycle through its gates.

Deputy Garrison Commander, Justin Mitchell, says that traffic means income for the surrounding communities. "Military folks move every two years generally, two to three years, and so that turnover and that constant influx of buying houses, buying cars, buying clothes for schools, is just a huge impact to the Enterprise community."

Fort Rucker employs 14,000 civilians and contractors. Soldiers in military fatigues are a common sight on the streets of Enterprise, shopping at local businesses and restaurants. Mitchell says Fort Rucker contributes one billion dollars a year to the region.

Enterprise has one of the strongest economies in Alabama.
Enterprise has one of the strongest economies in Alabama.

A strong economy

Phil Thomas, president of the Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, notes proudly that for the past two years, his town has had one of the strongest economies in Alabama.

"Everyone's unemployment rates have gone up in the past year, year and a half. Relatively speaking, ours have been very low. We have remained the third lowest unemployment rate in Alabama for six to nine months now."

Thomas says Enterprise learned to be strong from the Boll Weevil. The pest taught the town the value of a diverse economy.

"Agriculture, the military, the business community, industry, and service jobs all take about 20 percent of our economy, so it's really good for us because if one sector is a little bit slow or has a downturn, the other sectors can pull it out."

Today, the boll weevil has been eradicated from the fields of the southern United State. But the insect still holds an honored place in Enterprise: in the monument on Main Street; in the hearts of the residents of Enterprise; and, in its own way, in the local economy.

You May Like

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid