Cities shift focus when manufacturing disappears

NORWOOD, Ohio - John Mumper stands on what some consider hallowed ground.  He's standing on what was once the entrance to the massive General Motors site in Norwood, Ohio. The 50-plus acres of plants cranked out cars until the late 1980's and at one point employed 9,000 people.

Until it closed.   

"It was 1986 when the announcement was made that they were gonna close the plant," said Mumper, a lifelong Norwood resident and current Norwood council member.  "And they finally closed it on Black Wednesday, everybody here in Norwood calls it, August 26, 1987. It was an awful day. They were 35 percent of our income."

Shortly after GM closed, Norwood was hit with another punch.  LeBlond Makino, another large manufacturer, would leave Norwood.  The reality that hit Norwood was a very harsh one.

"We got kinda caught up in these things and there was no savings for a rainy day fund or something like that because they were always gonna be here," said Mumper. "And you're tied to that and all of a sudden, poof, it's gone."

In the late 1970s, manufacturing first starting taking a dip in the United States. In the past 10 years its decline has been rapid.

Something the people in the City of Hamilton know all too well.

"In the City of Hamilton there has been paper made for the last 150 years every day, and that's no longer going to be the case, potentially," said Mumper.

Until the turn of this century, the largest paper manufacturer in the world, International Paper, was headquartered in Hamilton, Ohio, which is northwest of Norwood.  Hamilton was the Mecca of paper production.  Now only two large paper plants remain, Mohawk and Smart Papers.  Both have given the City of Hamilton notice that they plan to shut their doors in less than six months.  That means another 350 jobs lost in a community already facing double-digit unemployment.

"Because our industry was so tied to kind of a specific industry in paper manufacturing, we've taken a big hit here in the last year," said Makino. "So that's gonna be hard for us to dig out of."

Norwood and Hamilton are like so many cities across the U.S. born and raised on manufacturing and hurting badly now that they've been abandoned. 

From the years 2000 to 2010, there has been a 26 percent decline in manufacturing jobs in Ohio. Kentucky and Indiana have fared slightly better, but still have seen a close to 18 percent decline.

For 24 years, Norwood has been fighting its way back from losing its jobs.  City leaders forced GM to demolish its plants and donate the land back to the city.  Now buildings housing everything from warehouses to retail space sit where GM once did.  And Norwood continues to try to diversify it's tax base.  Where LeBlond Makino once stood is now two of the most popular shopping centers in the area, Rookwood Commons and Rookwood Pavilion.  A $100 million dollar development is underway adjacent to those sites that will house a hotel and multiplex cinema.  Two other large construction projects are set to begin.  Both are for the healthcare industry.

"We're going in the right direction now," John Mumper said. "We're trying to keep it going that way."

In Hamilton, the real work is getting started to refocus and diversify.  A plan was just adopted in August that calls for reinvigorating the city's center and diversifying its industry.

This spring, the corridor and underpass that welcome most people into the city will get a facelift.

"We want to spruce that up.  We want to make it look more vibrant so that the first image people have when they come into the city is a positive one," said Tim Werdmann.

Meanwhile, new retail shops and businesses are opening in the city's core.

"We've got a bicycle shop that's recently opened," Werdmann said. "We've got an Irish pub in our downtown area. We've got a new art store that's opened."

And the city is learning to play up its assets when trying to attract new industry.

"The thing that makes us different, which is we are an urban area," Werdmann said. "We are a traditional city. We have great architecture. These are the things we have to focus on and make our strengths."

To see the manufacturing jobs that have come and gone in your county, visit http://www.wcpo.com/generic/news/Manufacturing-jobs-in-the-US.

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