They were forgotten communities, at least in the minds of many people who lived in them.
Even as the rest of the country recovered from the recession, people in the nation’s coal fields and Rust Belt continued to suffer economically. They longed for a return to the days when their region could produce high-paying jobs, and they helped boost Donald Trump to the presidency when he promised to do just that.
Already, the hard work of making that happen is underway – but it’s not just as a project emanating from Washington, D.C.
“Much of the work of restoring the economy in these areas has to begin with the people who live there,” says Greg Kozera, director of marketing for Shale Crescent USA (www.shalecrescentusa.com), a non-profit, non-political group of business and community leaders from Ohio and West Virginia who are doing just that.
“The federal government can do some things to help, but it’s the private sector and local government officials who really need to step up.”
There are reasons for optimism in such places as the Mid-Ohio Valley that stretches across Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and where Shale Crescent USA is doing its work.
“You have an area with the largest natural gas field in the world,” Kozera says. “There is easy transportation on the Ohio River and you have people eager to work. Being close to half of the markets in North America also helps. We could be on the verge of a petrochemical industrial boom, and the average job in that industry pays $100,000.”
Of course, it may be easier for communities to achieve an economic revival when there’s a much-coveted natural resource to tap into, but there are other steps leaders in these “forgotten communities” can take to improve their fortunes, Kozera says. Those include:
• Take the initiative. Business and community leaders shouldn’t wait for government or outside industry to make something happen. They need to take action. “That’s what the people who formed Shale Crescent USA did,” Kozera says. “They knew if something was going to happen, they would need to be the catalyst for making it happen themselves.”
• Create awareness. Once you know what you want to achieve, you must get the word out to people and industries that can help you make it happen. For example, Shale Crescent USA is making sure that the petrochemical, glass and other industries know about the advantages the Mid-Ohio Valley provides as a place to grow or relocate. Government can do a lot to help bring in business, Kozera says, but typically doesn’t do a very good job of staying focused on marketing and sales.
• Remember that prosperity is contagious. Sometimes when multiple cities or states are involved, they become competitive and forget that exactly where industry locates doesn’t matter because the whole region will benefit from economic development. As people gain good paychecks, more businesses will spring up to serve them. The tax base also increases, which means schools, roads, parks and other government services can also improve.
“Something like this isn’t a simple task,” Kozera says. “It takes a team effort. If you can get people in a region working together, you’ll have a much greater chance of accomplishing your goals.”