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How Hamilton, Fairfield and Norwood recovered from General Motors plant closures in 1986

Posted at 5:25 PM, Nov 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-27 17:25:11-05

HAMILTON, Ohio -- Automotive plants lined the Great Miami River in 1986, and southwest Ohio was General Motors country. 

The sudden closure of the GM stamping plant that employed 2,000 workers threw the Hamilton community back on its heels and foreshadowed an economic downturn that would continue to impact the small city into the next century. Another closure in nearby Norwood cost that city more than 4,000 jobs and more than one-third of its tax base. 

"What do you do to start replacing that?" Michael Samoviski, then Hamilton's director of public works, asked himself then. "How do you position that for your future? Somehow, can you reinvent your community?"

You can. It's not easy. 

Hamilton found a solution in aggressively recruiting new businesses and shifting its priorities to new industries, although progress has sometimes seemed slow. So did Fairfield and Norwood. The key, according to Samoviski, was learning to diversify local economies that had previously depended on a single large employer. 

Following the Monday announcement of another Ohio GM plant closure -- this one in Lordstown, Ohio -- he said he sympathized with the "devastating" news but believed the town could learn from the struggles his own city experienced three decades ago and emerge stronger.

"You can recover," he said. "You have to have a totally different focus. The leadership in these communities were able to do that. They put plans in place, had aggressive economic development departments, (and) went out to areas attracting business, retail and manufacturing."