Making small town America great again starts with you.

What makes America great has never left; we have just forgotten about it.

Small Town America has suffered in the last couple of decades with the rise of metropolitan centers and the fall of industry.  The struggle for small towns is unfortunately not over, and many communities fear for the future.  During his campaign, President Trump promised that he would revive the coal industry since the previous administration had taken a stance for cleaner fuels.  According to The Washington post, between 2008 and 2012 over 50,000 jobs within the coal mining industry were lost.  The decline of the coal industry is due to the cheaper prices of clean energy.  The cost of natural gas has fallen to its lowest amount since 1999 due to the introduction of efficient fracking methods.  The cost of coal has also fallen in the last five years, however the reason is not an increased efficiency of production.

The demand for coal has fallen severely due to the high cost and pressure from the government.  The Obama Administration was blamed for the loss of jobs by implementing new EPA regulations that were passed in 2015, however the decline began before the regulations were introduced.  Between efficient natural gas practices, cheaper solar and wind energy plants, and an awareness to emissions, coal has continued to decline.  In North Carolina alone, two coal plants will be closed for “early retirement” by Duke Energy due to the dangers that they present to air and water quality in their respective areas.  The problem that now faces small town America is how to re-equip these communities with jobs?

The fall of coal is not the first time that rural America has been hit with job shortages.  In the 1970’s the United States fell into a recession.  Where they did not call it the “great recession,” jobs were lost and the country suffered.  Similar to today, it took a couple of years however eventually the country began to regain its economic footing.  However, much like the coal industry today, the textile industry was left behind in the economic takeoff.  “[O]ver the last few years, the rate of job loss has increased again—with more than 50,000 textile jobs lost from 1994 to 1996[.]”

Cities tend to be more stable for jobs because they are typically not dependent upon one industry.

The loss in textile jobs came in part due to “child sweatshops” around the world.  This term is used loosely; textile companies left because they were able to find cheaper work with less regulation in foreign theaters.  After the loss of the textile industry, many small towns struggled to get by.  Decades later, many of these towns still suffer from double unemployment rates compared to the national average.

The question that was unanswered then becomes the question of today: how to revitalize the small town again?  The easiest way would be to inform the individuals to pack up and move to the big city.  Cities tend to be more stable for jobs because they are typically not dependent upon one industry—for this point and purpose, Detroit is an outlier and but that is topic for another day.  Aside from that, a number of towns such as Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina struggled to rebuild after their respective industries dried up.

By the 1920’s Asheville had grown to the “hub of Western North Carolina.”  With this growth, the town eagerly started a number of projects.  But when the great depression hit, Asheville was hit especially hard.  The city dropped into a massive amount of debt and for the next 50 years’ growth remained stagnant.  Finally, in 1977, the debts from the Great Depression were paid and the  city could rebuild.

After paying off the heavy debt, the city decided to invest in new businesses coming in to bolster the downtown.  Historians were heavily involved in this process and convinced the city to revitalize historic buildings and adopt the look that was the city was already known for.  The plan worked, and the downtown commercial center revived into what is now a hipster paradise.  Everything from new age art, to chocolate bars, to breweries came to the Asheville scene to the point that the city is now known by the slogan “Keep Asheville Weird.”

Most of the time, cities redevelop due to the addition of new businesses to the area.

In the 1980’s, Greenville, South Carolina was in a position similar to Asheville, N.C..  The city blossomed as a cotton mill town in the late 1890’s.  When the mills began to close in the latter half of the century, the town was left with empty mill buildings and a high unemployment rate.  The city began the daunting task of stimulating the failing economy by redefining the downtown area and creating a river walk that would be highly welcoming to new companies and residents.

Companies want attractive areas for their employees.  In the competitive job market of today, many companies attempting to hire young professionals must juggle between the cost of locating a new office and what the location can provide.  Companies such as Boeing decided to make a critical decision in 2009 to start a new production factory outside of Charleston, South Carolina.  Luckily for states such as North and South Carolina, companies are pleased by the lack of unions.  Other than avoiding unions, companies such as Boeing decide to expand to cities where they will be able to easily find a workforce.  For Charleston, being voted the best city in the world in 2016 was a very attractive option.

It is important to note that government intervention is not the only way to increase jobs in small towns.  Most of the time, cities redevelop due to the addition of new businesses to the area.  Sometimes this is promoted by local governments with the addition of tax cuts to new businesses to the area or other incentives given to companies, other times it is by sheer stroke of luck.

Other times, these towns can be saved from the very American thought of becoming an entrepreneur.  Many citizens hear this word and become frightened at the possibility.  Especially in the legal field, the connotation behind being a solo practitioner can carry quite the stressful burden when it comes to putting food on the table.

However, the practice of going out on your own and starting a business is not a dead principle in the United States.  Seen mostly in the restaurant industry, sometimes even a restaurant opening up in a small economically depressed town can mean wonders for the community.

If anything is true, the recipe is way more interesting if a story comes with it. 

In Kinston, N.C. there is not much to do.  After a largely failed attempt to attract shipping companies to a large commercial airport in the area, the town—and the State of North Carolina—were running out of ideas.  Luckily for the community, Kinston is blessed with having Vivian Howard return to where she was raised.

Vivian Howard – a chef professionally trained in New York City – decided to come home at the wishes of her parents.  Since then, she has started two restaurants in Kinston.  Her restaurants drew the attention of PBS and soon enough, the small town of Kinston received a television series, “A Chef’s Life,” that focuses on the restaurant’s goal to locally source most if not all of its ingredients.

Vivian laughingly informed Fox News that, “You do not need to go to New York City to do anything.”  Her recipes and show focus little on the professional recipes learned at a culinary institution, but instead on the southern home cooking that she learned growing up.  If anything is true, the recipe is way more interesting if a story comes with it.

While her restaurants may not hire a majority of the town like a factory, the attention received by her restaurants has increased the traffic to the Kinston area.  This traffic purchases gas, hotel rooms, and other goods from the town.  The tourist increase has ever slightly bolstered the economy in the small town of Kinston.  Unfortunately, stories like Vivian’s are few and far between.  America tends to be less risky, and with that we find more and more people applying for jobs instead of using their creativity.

Small Town, America may not be saved by the the Trump Administration, however that is no cause to lose hope.  Instead, these dead and dying towns might need to innovate themselves into something new.  Any citizen could become the next Vivian Howard for their town and start a road to recovery.  All it takes is a little inspiration, some sweat, and the cutting of red tape.

Avatar photo
About Cyrus Corbett V, Associate Editor Emeritus (16 Articles)
Cyrus Corbett V is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. He is from Murrells Inlet, South Carolina and received his Bachelors in Arts in Government from Wofford College in 2014. Since July after his first year of law school, Cyrus has interned at the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association in downtown Raleigh focusing on the Retail Merchants Handbook. His interest is in jurisprudence of the law and negotiation/ mediation.
Contact: Email