The past few years have been devastating for the industrial states. As a journalist for the New York Times, I wrote numerous stories about plant closings, job losses, beleaguered communities, and residents’ bewilderment that the nation did not see value in what generations had created.
Many people have written off the manufacturing belt as a remnant of the past. But I grew up in Michigan, and I refuse to believe that region is finished. That is why I decided to join the Changing Gears project.
In “The Natural,” Bernard Malamud’s book on a baseball player’s second chance, Iris, the long-lost love of Roy Hobbs, tells him that she thinks people live two lives: the life they learn with, and the life they live after that.
For the past 100 years, people in the region from Duluth to Buffalo learned how to make things. And for much of the past century, the nation’s economy depended on the fruits of their labor. Now, in a global economy that has shifted from building to buying, the residents of states like Michigan, Ohio and Indiana have to learn new skills that will lead them back to prosperity.
Our job at Changing Gears is to tell that story. But it isn’t just a business story. It is about the people of the region, as well as the environment of the Great Lakes states. We will explore the area’s changing culture, from ways of thinking to the shifts in social and ethnic backgrounds. The team also will focus on the arts, such as music, food and personal expression, which have helped define to the world what some call the North Coast.
Even before we take to the airwaves, the partners of the Changing Gears project have been playing their own role.
In recent months, Michigan Radio has been asking its listeners to suggest three things the state can do to revive itself. Over the past year, WBEZ in Chicago has been examining jobs and joblessness in its series, Hard Working. In Cleveland, ideastream is conducting its “Help Wanted” project, providing resources to those in need of jobs.
They have laid the groundwork. Now, Changing Gears will forge ahead in a fresh approach with a two-fold purpose: journalism and public engagement.
On the journalism side, look to us for reports, documentaries, video interviews, call in programs and on-air debates. On the community side, we’re planning public forums to air a variety of views, brainstorm and ultimately help our region move forward.
We won’t be a chamber of commerce. Our job is not to cheerlead — in fact, if promises are being made and not kept, we will explore that as well. But we will be leading a discussion and we need you to play a role. Send us suggestions on stories we can cover, people we can interview, and developments you see as meriting exposure, whether positive or negative.
It’s a team effort, between the Changing Gears team, and you, our listeners and Web visitors. Give us a hand, so we can give this region a much needed hand.