company towns

http://www.richardclongworth.com/

When you hear the term “company town” you might think of DOW and Midland, Ford and Dearborn, Kellogg and Battle Creek, or Whirlpool and Benton Harbor. But too many cities in Michigan have realized just how dependent they are on a single industry when the major employer shuts its plant down - just think of GM and Flint, or the Ford plant in Monroe, or any other number of towns that have lost major employers during Michigan’s so-called lost decade.

Mid-sized and smaller towns have known for some time that they need to diversify the employment base, but that’s a job with a lot of obstacles.

George Erickcek, a senior regional analyst with the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, and Richard Longworth, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and author of the book “Caught in the MiddleAmerica's Heartland in the Age of Globalism," joined us today.

We continued our look at energy in Michigan on the show. Today, it's all about fracking. Horizontal hydraulic fracturing has led to an abundance of natural gas, but it is also raising a lot of concerns, both in the U.S. and Europe. We spoke with Andy Hoffman, Abrahm Lustgarten, and Russell Padmore about the risks.

And, you've heard of Benton Harbor and Whirlpool, Battle Creek and Kellogg - we explored "company towns" and what they mean for the Michigan economy.

First on the show, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network today released its 2012 Citizen’s Guide to Michigan Campaign Finance entitled “Descending into Dark Money.”

I’m sure you’ll be just shocked, shocked I tell you - to learn record amounts of money were spent with even less accountability for who was spending that money. 

Rich Robinson with the Michigan Campaign Finance Network joined us in the studio today to discuss the issue. 

Dan Bobkoff / Changing Gears

Our Changing Gears team has been on the road this week traveling to some of our company towns in the Midwest.

Changing Gears is a Michigan Radio project looking at the economic transformation of the industrial Midwest.

Our final stop is Orrville, Ohio: A place that seems like a company town, but there’s long been a whole lot more going on in Orrville.

Dan Bobkoff / Changing Gears

When a company bears the name of its hometown, it can be hard to separate the two. Such is the case with Norwalk Furniture and the town of Norwalk in Northern Ohio. Sue Lesch is the town’s mayor.

“It really is our flagship company,” said Sue Lesch, Norwalk’s mayor. “It’s the company we’re proud of. We’re known for furniture all over the country.”

For more than a hundred years, Norwalk Furniture made custom-order sofas and chairs in its Ohio factory. For a long time, it was the biggest business in town, employing about 700 in this town of 17,000.

Photo courtesy of Cliffs Natural Resources

Our Changing Gears project is on the road, bringing you stories of towns where one company still affects everybody’s lives. Today we head north, to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That’s where North America’s biggest supplier of iron ore has been blasting the earth, and creating jobs, for more than 160 years. 

Our destination is the city of Ishpeming. It’s small.  Basically, you can’t throw a rock here without hitting a miner.

Take Steve Carlson. After high school, he worked 37 years for the mines.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Our Changing Gears road trip continues. Yesterday, I was in Kohler, Wisconsin. Today, I went down state in Illinois to Decatur.

Driving south from Chicago, it only takes about 25 miles to hit the corn fields. For the next 150 miles to Decatur, it’s a sea of yellow corn tassels, a head tall.

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

From Pullman in Chicago to Firestone in Akron, these employers loomed large in everyone's daily lives.

But what does a "company town" look like today?

The Changing Gears team hit the road to find out.

All this week, we’re looking at how these places are coping with economic change.

For our first story, I visited the village of Kohler, Wisconsin.