Pete Bigelow: Choosing to Stay in the Midwest

A steady stream of U-hauls headed in the opposite direction should have been a sign of turmoil ahead. But as I drove a northbound stretch of Interstate 94 near the Lake Michigan shoreline four years ago, en route to a new job in Ann Arbor, I was oblivious to the severity of the economic crisis here.

Pete Bigelow

Less than three years later, the scope of the Great Recession became all too apparent. The Ann Arbor News, where I worked as the sports editor, shut its doors. And like so many others who fell victim to the wave of layoffs and closures, I had no idea what came next.

Several sleepless nights provided one tempting option: a hasty retreat to Colorado, where I had worked at another newspaper in suburban Denver.

But, despite a relatively short residency, my wife and I didn’t want to leave the Midwest. We liked our short commutes and our Michigan small town, the nearby lakes and roadside food stands. We had affordable housing and friendly neighbors.

We wanted to stay.
And, that would be a trickier proposition than fleeing the scene.

I am fortunate and grateful to have spent the past two years working as the Michigan football beat reporter at AnnArbor.com, but the impact of my job loss resonates to this day. That experience is what attracted me to Changing Gears, first as a listener, and now as the senior producer for the Web and social engagement.

Each day, I’ll be looking for stories that meet the mission of our project: exploring the transformation of the industrial Midwest, through the people who are driving and experiencing that change.

I’ll be overseeing our regular features, like our daily Midwest Memo, along with our podcast, videos, and of course, the coverage by our Changing Gears team. I’ll be adding my perspective, too. And I’ll be your first contact on anything that touches Changing Gears on the Web.

This has been an extraordinarily regional recession – an anomaly that, in retrospect, I blame for my clulessness years ago. Examining the particulars of what separates the Midwest from its neighbors through unemployment rates, balance sheets and development efforts is one reason I’m here.

Behind the endless cycle of those numbers, though, there are real people who have endured tremendous hardships, experienced promising reinventions and all things in between. Those are the stories I’m passionate about telling.

But this won’t merely be a one-way street.

Connecting with readers and listeners is the lifeblood of what I’d like to do as part of the Changing Gears community.

I’d encourage you to share your stories with me in the comment section of our stories here, via email at pbiggs@umich.edu or on Twitter @PeterCBigelow and @ChGears. We also want you to “like” our Facebook page and add your thoughts there, too.

I look forward to those conversations.

2 Replies to “Pete Bigelow: Choosing to Stay in the Midwest”

  1. It’s really refreshing to hear a narrative that doesn’t see the industrial rust of the Midwest as an ultimate dealbreaker or a reason to pack up and move out South, but instead an opportunity for growth through rebuilding. I look forward to reading forthcoming posts!

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