Tag Archives: manufacturing

Green Shoots at GM?

Interesting article about the state of General Motors from Scripps Howard.

Despite the car maker’s highly publicized reorganization this year, GM still leads the nation in market share with about 20 percent of the total, down from 22 percent in 2008.

Consumers seem to have shrugged off the auto maker’s reorganization, according to tis article. This is particularly true of Chinese consumers who have revived the popularity of the Buick.

1998 Buick Ultra: Who would have thought this would be the car that would save GM?

1998 Buick Ultra: Who would have thought this would be the car that would save GM?

Meeting Chinese demand will be critical because the country surpassed the US as the biggest consumer of automobiles this year.


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Filed under Headline, U.S. Auto Industry

Incentives and Jobs

Though we often hear that manufacturing in this country is “dead” or “dying,” this article from the Harrisburg (Pa) Patriot-News shows the lengths some states and counties still go to — offering millions in tax incentives — to land manufacturing jobs.

The author spoke to folks who said these kinds of incentives are needed to woo businesses, and others who said their time has past, that pitting one region against another means everybody loses.

What do you think?

Is this a game states, counties and cities have to play? Or should they opt out and focus resources on things like workforce training or education?


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Filed under Economic Development, regionalism, The Media

The Economist: Youngstown, A Young Town Again

The Economist Magazine is running a cautiously optimistic story about the future of Youngstown, paying tribute to recent downtown developments and the success of the Youngstown Business Incubator.

“Youngstown’s problems have been manifold,” The magazine writes. “But now there are a few signs that things are starting to improve.”

“One example is the Youngstown Business Incubator, which provides cheap office space and other assistance to start-ups that specialize in business software.

“Founded using government seed money 14 years ago in a part of downtown where few dared to venture, let alone start a business, it is now thriving. Its star pupil, with nearly 200 employees, is Turning Technologies, which has outgrown its original space and been forced to move to a separate building nearby.”

The Youngstown 2010 plan is mentioned, although the magazine concedes it may not work.

Then this: “On Friday and Saturday nights, twenty-somethings spill out onto the pavements. Now all Youngstown has to do is keep them.”

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Lessons from Europe: Turino, The Detroit of Italy

For the last two days, Cleveland State University has been hosting Lessons from Europe: Regional Governance and Economic Transformation in Older Industrial Cities.

The workshop is being put on by The German Marshall Fund of the United States with support from the Ford Foundation. On Friday, the group will be traveling to Detroit’s NextEnergy to do the whole thing again.

I had the opportunity to sit in on a speech from Professor Dr. Valentino Castellani, the former mayor of Torino, Italy, a city that has been called the Detroit of Europe.


The city was once the industrial capital of Italy, a one-company town where the economy centered around Fiat, the Italian carmaker which is headquartered there.

Turino (or Turin) lost 80,000 jobs related to auto manufacturing over a period of several years in a time known as “The Crisis of the Fiat,” according to Dr. Castellani. About one-third of the city’s 1 million people were directly affected by cuts as local car manufacturers shifted from building more than 2 million cars per year to about 800,000. At one point, the town had 1 million square meters of abandoned industrial sites, he said.

The economic crisis was compounded by a administrative crisis, according to Dr. Castellani. Turino turned over four mayors in five years and had “no vision for the future.” But a major turning point arrived in 1993 when the Italian Parliament imposed a series of reforms that allowed Italians to elect their local leadership directly. As a result, Dr. Castellani, a professor of electrical communications who specialized in satellite communications at Politecnico, was elected to the city’s highest office and he began the process of trying to reinvent the city.

The name of his speech was “The Need for a Big Vision and Leadership.”

Dr. Castellani began by launching a campaign to brand Turino as the “City of Cinema.”  The town drew from its history of being the birthplace of cinema in the early 1900s for this vision, according to Dr. Castellani.

The city established incentives for movie production. It began hosting the Turin Film Festival. It built the Museum of Cinema and a virtual reality theme park.

“The idea came from the legacy we has that was projected into the future,” Dr. Castellani said.

Meanwhile, the city gathered major stakeholders and developed 20 objectives and 84 actions  for a more vibrant future.

“Not all of them were successful,” he said. “Many of them were successful–enough of them.”

City officials also set to work developing a strategic plan, with an emphasis on bottom-up citizen participation. It was the first major city in Italy to do so.

“Aiming at big achievement requires the patience of making small steps and accepting failures,” he told guests. “A strong commitment makes a difference. It is crucial to recognize that each step is part of the vision.”

That effort culminated with Dr. Castellani’s successful promotion of the town to host the world for the Olympic games.

Quite a turn around.


Filed under Featured, Good Ideas, Urban Planning

President Obama to Talk Jobs in Youngstown Area

President Obama will speak just outside Youngstown today at GM’s Lordstown plant, kicking off the a presidential tour of the Midwest on jobs and the economy, according to The Detroit News.

GM Factories

The plant  has been through a series of ups and downs in the past year.

From The Detroit News: Thirteen months ago, then-CEO Rick Wagoner and dignitaries attended a splashy event in the plant to announce a third shift and $350 million investment in the plant to build the new Chevrolet Cruze sedan, which is expected to launch next year and get 40 miles per gallon.

A month later, the auto industry and financial markets collapsed. By January, Lordstown had lost two shifts, and about 2,800 workers were laid off.

GM said last month that a second shift is being called back to work at Lordstown because of increased demand for the Chevrolet Cobalt, which was a big seller during the $3 billion “cash for clunkers” program, and to prepare for production of a new more fuel efficient compact model next year. The workers being recalled include 1,000 hourly workers and 50 salaried.

General Motors CEO Fritz Henderson is also expected for the speech.

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Filed under Art, Featured, The Big Urban Photography Project, U.S. Auto Industry

Jeffrey Eugenides’ Detroit

The Daily Beast is carrying an article today celebrating the 16th anniversary of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel, The Virgin Suicides, a dark, whimsical, coming-of-age story set in suburban Detroit.

Eugenides, a Detroit native, later went on to write the Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling Middlesex, which also features the Motor City prominently, from the early days of immigrant tenements to red-lining, the race riots, and suburbanization.



The Virgin Suicides offers an exceptional descriptions of Detroit in its heyday; Middlesex an account of the tumultuous series of events that have made it the city it is today.

In an opening scene of The Virgin Suicides, Eugenides describes the setting in his quiet residential community following the suicide of the first Lisbon girl:

“That was in June, fish fly season, when each year our town is covered by a flotsam of those ethereal insects. Rising in clouds from the algae in the polluted lake, they blacken windows, coat cars and streetlamps, plaster the municipal docks and festoon the rigging of sailboats, always in the same brown ubiquity of flying scum.”

“[Celia] was standing by the curb in an antique wedding dress with the shorn hem like she always wore, looking at a Thunderbird encased in fish flies. ‘You better get your broom, honey,’ Mrs. Scheer advised. But Celia fixed her with her spiritualist gaze. ‘They’re dead.’ she said. ‘They only live for 24 hours. They hatch, they reproduce and then they croak. They don’t even get to eat.’ And with that she stuck her hand into the foamy layer of bugs and cleared her initials: C.L.”

Recommended reading for all Detroiters as well as those that are just interested in learning more about one America’s great industrial centers.

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Monongahela Dusk: Author Interview


Rust Wire is excited to share our recent interview with author John Hoerr.

Hoerr spent decades working as a labor journalist, covering labor in the era when unions were much larger and organized labor often made big news. His most well-known work is And the Wolf Finally Came, which is an in-depth, yet easy to read chronicle of the decline of the American steel industry in the 1980s, focusing on the Monongahela Valley. (For all you non-Pittsburgh readers, the Mon Valley is where the Monongahela River flows, through Pittsburgh, and a number of smaller towns, such as Rankin, Braddock, Duquesne, Hoerr’s hometown of McKeesport, West Mifflin, Clairton, Donora, and Monessen. Each of these towns had a steel mill, most of them have long since closed.)

And the Wolf Finally Came is a must-read for anyone interested in deindustrialization and the decline of our country’s manufacturing sector, particularly steel. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called Hoerr “a leading chronicler of the demise of industrial America.” A mighty tough job, if I do say so myself.

Here’s a brief synopsis of his upcoming book, Monongahela Dusk, courtesy of the publisher. Unlike his first three books, it will be a work of fiction.

Monongahela Dusk is a historical novel of the1930s and 1940s set in McKeesport, one of the largest of the legendary steel-producing towns of the Monongahela Valley. In 1937, as labor turmoil sweeps across western Pennsylvania, traveling beer salesman Pete Bonner picks up hitchhiker Joe Miravich, a blacklisted coal miner running from the law. The two overhear a plot to kill a national union leader in Pittsburgh and warn the intended victim only to become targets of the man who ordered the assassination, a mysterious industrialist who conspires with racketeers to control mill-town politics.

Over the next dozen years Bonner becomes a prosperous businessman. Miravich rises to union president in the local steel mill, where management and labor struggle over divisive issues. The two men form an unlikely alliance to defend themselves against sporadic attacks by political enemies. As the town moves from Depression to postwar prosperity, their lives are depicted in work and family scenes of middle-and-working-class life, exposing deep racial and class divisions. A violent showdown in McKeesport reveals the exploitative nature of the economic and political powers that would, forty years later, turn the mill towns of the Monongahela Valley into blighted relics of the industrial era.”

I can’t wait to read it.

Rust Wire: Why did you decide to write a novel about the Mon Valley in the 1930s and 1940s?

John Hoerr: “I really didn’t start out to be a journalist, I wanted to be a fiction writer from the beginning. For most of my career I wrote stories, almost none of which were published after my college years…

The second thing is that after I finished Wolf [And The Wolf Finally Came] I felt a sense of incompleteness. I had set down technically all the facts I knew – and it is 626 pages of facts, I just went back and looked at the pages – and I still felt I really hadn’t explained what had happened to the mills and the towns in the Mon Valley or anywhere.

I couldn’t point to one person or one organization, or one corporation, or one union, one union leader, one corporate figure like Henry Frick or Andrew Carnegie, I couldn’t point to one villain who was responsible for the social, economic, and political catastrophe.

So when I finished Wolf, I had this sense of incompleteness. I also had a sense of wanting desperately to write a description about my upbringing, not my life as such, but things I saw as a kid and as a young man, throughout the Mon Valley.  When I was a kid, I traveled up and down the Valley, worked briefly in a U.S. Steel mill, -the National Tube plant in McKeesport – had other kinds of jobs in McKeesport, and knew the town pretty well. I never had a chance to write published descriptions [of that.] …

So, I put those two things together, that is, creating a story about people in the Mon Valley that in the end would, metaphorically anyway, try to give my explanation of what happened in the Valley. Not in its actual terms, but I think, metaphorically. The novel is not a coming of age novel. It is not about me. It is about the generation previous to mine, my father’s generation.

I put people together in situations that for me, tells a story about what might have happened, leading up to what, in fact, did happen 40 years later. Now, the story is confined to the 1930s and 1940s and it ends about 1950. It comes nowhere near in time to the 1980s shut down of the mills, but it sort of indicates what might happen in the future because of what has happened in the 30s and 40s.”

RW: How much of this book was influenced by your work as a reporter and by what you learned and saw as a reporter?

JH: “I would say it is greatly influenced by that. As I said, I knew the valley before I ever became a reporter, but nowhere near on such intimate terms as after I became a reporter, because for many years, I covered the Mon Valley as a reporter. Even when I was working out of New York, I returned to the Mon Valley and talked to people, especially, local union people I knew up and down the valley in the all of the mills. Without being a reporter, I never would have had that experience….

That’s what my life experience is and I used that as much as I could, because I talked to real people.”

RW: How does your new book relate generally to the decline of manufacturing in this country?

JH: “The book doesn’t attempt to be in any way, a text book, it is a novel, a fictional story. But most fictional stories, if they have anything to do with real people, and real situations – especially economic situations, political situations – most stories have something to say about the time in which they were written, the culture, the politics…

I show what happens in a fictional situation in a particular fictional steel mill in a community in the 30s and 40s. Those who wish, could project that forward to other towns and other industries, other plants, and get a sense of what might have happened.

By the way, my novel is in a town named McKeepsport, my hometown, but there are many fictional organizations of people in it, which I describe in a forward statement. I don’t use the name National Tube to refer to the mill, I have a fictional name because the stories that are set inside the mill are all fictional, and I wouldn’t  want it thought that I was trying to describe any factual current that I knew about. The same with the town…to the degree that I used political figures I used fictional political figures, and so forth.”

RW: Does your book address at all what could have been done in the 1930s and 40s, or even in the 1980s both by steel companies and unions in the US to have a better outcome and avoided the widespread mill shutdowns?

JH: “Only in an indirect way, and probably not for a lot of fiction readers. To some in industry and the labor movement, it might indicate what corporations and unions might have done, although I don’t set out to say so specifically. But the nature of the story I tell might indicate how they could have reacted. …“

RW: I had been planning on asking you if any parts of this story were autobiographical, that is, based on your own life and experiences, but you already said that isn’t the case.

JH: “In 1937, when it starts, I was a little kid. I appear in two scenes, one as an 8 –year-old, one as a 14-year-old, and I’m hardly shown as someone who made things happen. I’m hardly in this book at all, except to make fun of myself.”

RW: Let’s talk a little bit more about the differences between writing non-fiction and fiction.

JH: “…Journalism might have [impacted] the fiction writing too much, in that I put too many facts in. In journalism of course, that’s all you want to do is put the facts in…But friends commented on that, that my manuscript was saturated with facts. …I had to work assiduously to rid the fiction of facts. It sounds like a crazy comment, but it’s true, I did.”

RW: Do you have any other future projects or fiction you are working on now that you can share with us?

JH: “I wish I did, but not at the moment, my wife and I are contemplating getting ready to move. We recently sold our home here in New Jersey and we are going to move to Massachusetts where we have two sons, to be with family. We want to be up in that area.”

Monongahela Dusk will be published Aug. 15, but before that people can get a 25 percent discount by writing to the publisher, Autumn House Press, 87 1/2 Westwood Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15211. You must  apply before Aug. 1 for the discount.
Hoerr is scheduled to read selections from the book Aug. 29 at the Pump House, 880 East Waterfront Drive, Munhall, PA, which is run by the Battle of Homestead Foundation.


And for all you other McKeesport natives out there, Hoerr recomends the blog/ news site Tube City Almanac. Check it out!



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