Songs from the 80s and 90s are part of my youth in more ways than one.
Now the whitewashed windows of Main Street
And vacant stores
It seems like there’s no one
Don’t want to come here anymore
Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown might as well have been about my hometown. I grew up in a steel town that no longer produces steel. Most of my classmates did what Springsteen sang about: pack our bags, maybe head south.
Springsteen also sang a ballad about my dad’s hometown, Youngstown. It’s a melancholic song from a place in decline in a country that didn’t appreciate manufacturing and the nation’s cravings for steel.
Well my dad came on the Ohio Works
When he returned from World War II
Now the yards are just scrap metal and rubble
Even Billy Joel chimed in too, singing about the decline of the 80s. Allentown was about towns in Pennsylvania, but it spoke to a lot of us Ohioans at the time.
Well we live here in Allentown
And they close all the factories
Out in Bethlehem, they’re killing time
Fill out forms
Standing in line
My kids and grandkids (I’m grateful for one on the way) won’t have the same tunes stuck in their heads as I did. Words of growth and progress are being written in places like Newark and Licking County in the 2020s.
A whole new generation of songwriters has new fodder for so-called “problems” in Ohio in the 2020s – more jobs than people to fill them, more buyers than sellers of homes and more interested industrial companies than available industrial sites.
My generation has an obligation to remind future generations that these problems are not really problematic compared to the alternatives. Trust me. I watched the decline, not just listened in songs.
Figuring out how to fund a declining school system is more difficult than a growing one that is approaching capacity. It is a real task to rebuild old streets for a penny than to pave new ones for a dollar. Waiting for the new electronic paycheck from your job in your account beats waiting for the old paper unemployment check delivered to your front porch.
I will suggest that Bruce could write about Intel. This is the first new factory in decades happening in Ohio. The ground was shattered in Licking County earlier this month to signal the reality of a whole new semiconductor industry coming to the Heartland. Suppliers are already here in Ohio and the promise is that more are on the way. These facts bring with them a new song of positive progress instead of an old song of stagnation.
Billy could write lyrics about booming manufacturing of all kinds, like soy crisps at GB Food in Heath or polycarbonate at Covestro in Hebron. I’d suggest songwriters paint a picture of the soon-to-be-manufactured Behr paint in Licking County or get fired up about the gas compressor components assembled at the recently tripled Ariel factory. The Tamarack Dairy milk factory is expanding. The same goes for the thin film factory belonging to Transcendia. The 2020s expansion stories certainly beat out the opposite story of American manufacturing in the 80s.
Considering decline or growth, who does not choose growth for their children and grandchildren?
I think there really are lyrics somewhere. Together, let’s sing about the growth of the 2020s in our hometown.
Rick Platt is the President and CEO of the Port Authority of Heath-Newark-Licking County, a regular development columnist, and a father of four who lives in Newark. He is a member of the JobsOhio Board of Directors.