On the road, Changing Gears explores small-town economies throughout Midwest

On the corner of Main and Division in Ishpeming, Mich., Buck's Restaurant is known for serving big breakfasts and big portions to residents who depend on the mining industry for survival.

Changing Gears reporters have been out on the road. Our team has traveled through the Great Lakes in search of places where local economies, and town cultures, revolve around a single employer. Some are actual company towns – but not all of them can be defined that way.

Often overshadowed by bigger cities like Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, citizens of these places have experienced the Midwest economy in their own way, and developed different approaches to riding out the Great Recession.

Starting Monday, we’ll bring you stories of five such places.

Niala Boodhoo begins our reports in Kohler, Wisc., a planned village created by the Kohler Company in 1912. The company remains a lynchpin of the town, as well as a global leader in plumbing products. She also visits Decatur, Illinois, the unofficial soybean capital of the world and home to food-production kingpin Archer Daniels Midland, a Fortune 500 company.

In the far reaches of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Kate Davidson visits Ishpeming, a town supported by the mining industry and perhaps one of the few remaining locations in Michigan where blue-collar workers can find job stability.

In Ohio, Dan Bobkoff reports on two towns, approximately 70 miles apart, taking different approaches to  their local economies. Orrville may be best-known as the home of Smuckers, but it has kept its business base diverse for generations with companies like Schantz Organ Co. and Wil-Burt, which makes telescopic-masts (the kind you see on TV trucks).

In Norwalk, Dan tells of the community effort to support Norwalk Furniture when the company faced financial turmoil. The town offered incentives to keep the company in Norwalk, and then a group of local businessmen bought the business outright.

As you listen to our reports, we’d love to hear from residents of these places, about what makes their towns distinct and the challenges faced there. We look forward to your thoughts. And come back Monday, when Changing Gears kicks off its road trip.

Leave a Reply