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Our Hometown

Thomas C. Famous. Photo: Provided
Post 1945, hundreds of thousands of men and women were employed in the steel industry, thus building homes and communities in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh. Photo: Provided
Post 1945, hundreds of thousands of men and women were employed in the steel industry, thus building homes and communities in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh. Photo: Provided
By Thomas C. Famous

"Now Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores

Seems like there ain't nobody wants to come down here no more

They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks

Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back

To your hometown

Your hometown"

Bruce Springsteen.

I recently found myself in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. To be precise in regions named Beaver Creek and Alquipa.

Places, that, on first glance, come across as small town USA. Homes set on large parcels of land, with stacks of recently chopped fire logs packed neatly outside.

Country roads, that saw maybe, one vehicle every two minutes and diners where everyone was on a first name basis.

Norman Rockwell would have had multiple subject matters and characters to capture on canvass.

Peeling away the layers of quintessential America, revealed a bit more to the character of these towns. Stories of the consequences of global economics and trade deals.

You see, this region's economy was built on and around the American steel industry.

Nestled on the banks of the Ohio River, one can find rows and rows of railroad tracks, that once carried raw iron products to factories, to be fashioned into the refined steel, that serve as the infrastructure for many buildings in America and many other countries.

Post 1945, America produced 75 percent of all steel in the world using the time tested "open hearth" methods.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women were employed in the steel industry, thus building homes and communities in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh.

Heck, they even named their local football team after the industry.

Does the name Pittsburgh Steelers ring a bell?

However, along the way, European steel manufacturers experimented with new methods of steel production and came up with a process that converts iron into steel, by blasting pure oxygen into the molten metal.

This method, which is known as the "basic oxygen process" was perfected in Austria, by a company by the name of VOEST.

Their methodology allowed for steel plants to be built at half the cost of plants that used the "open hearth" technology and at the same time, produce up to four times the volume of steel, per hour.

Meanwhile,the American manufacturers, such as; Bethlehem, and Republic, continued to use outdated methods of production.

At times, executives of those companies, flat out denied that their productivity was low and costs higher, in comparison to the growing European manufacturers.

By the 1960s, factories in Europe and Asia, reduced America's piece of the pie of the global steel industry.

The net result, over subsequent decades, was the slow but steady decline of not only the American steel industry, but along with it, went the decline of the number of jobs available for workers in the industry.

This then led to the decline of homes, schools, shops and entire communities.

Driving through these areas, one would be hard pressed not to see entire neighborhoods that seem to be places that time forgot.

Long abandoned vehicles, Main Streets, where 4 out of 5 stores have long closed up and churches that have not opened their doors in decades.

Perhaps most telling, is the human factor of high unemployment and the low wages of those who have found work.

If ever there was an example of the wrong side of economic evolution, these small towns would serve as picture perfect posters.

It is perhaps, precisely this reason why many in this region, fell under the spell of Donald J. Trump and voted for his promises of reinvigorating the coal and steel industries that once dominated this region.

In the Presidential election of 2016, the state of Pennsylvania converted from a traditional stronghold of the Democratic Party, to a key victory for the Republicans.

This was based, primarily off of the hopes of people in these small town, that they would, via protectionist tariffs, see a revival of their jobs, income levels and hometowns.

Many obviously felt that the Democrats and big city liberals, had forgotten those who lived in small town USA. Hence, making them fertile ground for political promises.

Essentially, Trump became King, due to the support of rural America

Sitting in diners, where many openly carry firearms, gives a stark reality that the residents proudly defend, not only their right to bear arms, but as importantly, their right to pick presidents.

Choices based off of the hopes and promises, however false they have turned out to be, that their beloved coal and steel industries will be revived to world dominance.

The key takeaway from my foray into this area, was that if an industry and the communities and countries, built around that industry, fails to adapt to technological and global trends, they will be left behind.

The Overseas Territories of; Bermuda, Cayman Islands and the Virgin Islands, who rely heavily on financial services, need to diversify their economic models, in order to avoid possible external disruptions to our main sources of revenue.

There are lessons to be learned from the so called "Rust Belt" of America.

"Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back"

Bruce Springsteen

3 Responses to “Our Hometown”

  • apple pie (09/01/2020, 19:19) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    Much to consider chris
  • my friend (10/01/2020, 01:00) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Interesting comparison, but unless it is drama and foolishness our bvi friends won't take the time to really read and comprehend what you are communicating. Much less what it means to them.
  • ?? (10/01/2020, 11:25) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    I think I am caught the drift of what Thomas Famous is saying which is the main street in the BVI is no longer the attraction for shopping or doing business as most shopping is done online instead of doing so at malls and mortar and brick stores, and financial services type businesses no longer need large physical office spaces, hence, the term white washed windows and empty stores. Additionally, certain industries created the development of other businesses and once those industries move on to other locations or countries, the surrounding business eventually cease or move on.

    The motto of Thomas story is that we need to diversify into other industries because financial services industry no longer need physical space to operate as its all digital now and firms are moving to less regulated jurisdictions.

    An immediate solution is for someone to approach all of the families that own the spaces from the hospital and right up to the tamarind tree by the Road Town Police Station to revitalize their properties.

    Heritage Tourism including walking tours, night life, green spaces, restaurants, and shops may revitalize main street. There are plenty of buildings on main street that can serve multiple roles as a museum, store, office space, restaurant at the same time - Old Post Office, Old Customs House to name a few.

    BVIslanders and Belongers just do it !

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