Stop calling us the Rust Belt

Posted at 4:00 AM, Mar 15, 2016

CINCINNATI – Attention, New York and Washington media: It's time to stop smearing us with the Rust Belt epithet.

I read a lot of stories about the presidential race in the New York Times, Washington Post, Politico and other great publications. Along with insights about the races, time and again, reporters' go-to descriptor for Ohio and neighboring states is "Rust Belt."

Rust Belt. The term conjures images of hulking, empty factories and lines of broken men lining up for unemployment checks, doesn't it? A place whose glory days are history, its inhabitants hopeless and forlorn.

Here's the reality. If the term were ever applicable, that time is long gone.

Take Norwood. In 1987, General Motors shut down its Chevrolet Camaro plant there, leaving the small city reeling. Were the plant still standing vacant, sure, that would be an ugly notch in a rusty belt. But guess what? Three decades later, the factory is long gone, replaced by office buildings and an outdoor mall. Both helped spur development of the nearby thriving Rookwood Commons office, restaurant and retail complex.

Rookwood office building

In Cincinnati's Madisonville neighborhood, the old NuTone plant has been transformed into Medpace, a global health care and drug research campus that will soon be neighbored by a $200 million residential, retail and hotel complex that was announced last week.


In Cincinnati's Northside neighborhood, the American Can factory – a big, polluted eyesore, was cleaned up and transformed into a luxury apartment building and restaurant.


An interior detail of American Can Lofts

Fun fact: Ohio's unemployment rate stands at 4.9 percent. New York's is 4.9 percent, too. Washington, D.C.'s is 6.5 percent. Somehow, the rust just shows more here, I guess.

Another from the Labor Department: Greater Cincinnati's unemployment rate in December was 4.3 percent – lower than the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area's 4.4 percent and a bit higher than the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area's 3.8 percent rate.

The economic turmoil caused by the shrinking textile industry in the Mid-Atlantic states or the loss of manufacturing in the Northeast hasn't earned those regions a sweeping pejorative like Rust Belt.

But here are some headlines and analysis we've been treated to recently by the Washington press corps:

• A Reuters story that ran in the New York Times on March 10, "Ohio's 'Dirty Little Secret': Blue-Collar Democrats for Trump," which refers to the Rust Belt five times, including this gem about Trump winning in Massachusetts: "Although not a rust belt state, Trump won big in heavily blue collar, union cities." (Massachusetts unemployment rate is a whopping 0.2 percent lower than Ohio's.)

• "Bernie Sanders' Rust Belt rebound" – Politico, March 9.

• "Rust Belt Could Be Donald Trump’s Best Route to White House" – Wall Street Journal, March 6.

• "Trump may best appeal to the Rust Belt, from Pennsylvania through Wisconsin, an area that's been a bedrock of Democratic presidential victories but is reeling from job losses and still struggling to recover from the recession." – Associated Press story in New York Times, March 7.

I don't want to downplay the real hardship that many Ohioans are enduring. We have appalling rates of childhood poverty in Cincinnati, and other parts of the state have not bounced back as well as southwest Ohio from the decline of manufacturing. We have a lot of work to do to lift more people out of poverty.

But it's time to stop dismissing whole cities and states with a moniker that belongs to a different time. So, visiting reporters, grab lunch before you leave town at Ruth's Parkside Café in the American Can Lofts or a beer at Rhinegeist – in what was a woebegone vacant bottling plant in Over the Rhine.

I'll buy you a round, and we'll come up with some new names for our imperfect but growing region. 


Rhinegeist taps.

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