As I rolled into Wilmington, OH this Wednesday, a small farming community in southwest Ohio and the site of the largest economic collapse I’ve ever known in this country, I daydreamed of slowly dilapidating buildings and for sale signs lining the streets. This is the story that 60 minutes and other big media have covered, but it’s not the one I went to find and it’s not the one I saw.
Wilmington hosted shipping company DHL’s national hub of operations, which began to close down last year after the economic downturn and is preparing to fully close its U.S. operations this summer. This makes for a total of 8,000 jobs lost from a 12,000 person town.
That’s where the story of Mark Rembert, Taylor Stuckert, and Energize Clinton County begins. Mark and Taylor postponed Peace Corps duties to save their hometown through community organizing and grassroots economic development. I entered their donated downtown office into a meeting with the only Clinton County energy auditor, amongst buy local banners and Green For All posters.
In the shadow of a mono-industry way of life, ECC is pioneering a new way. Mark spoke excitedly about Wilmington’s potential, saying “we’re only capitalizing on 10% of our potential, we have so much room to grow!”. However, having submitted the largest weatherization program in US history to mostly deaf ears, during a glut of money for such programs, it’s clear that their work is cut out for them.
Time shall tell whether ECC can pull Wilmington out of this crisis. The federal response is helping, but ultimately the solutions must be local. Taylor said the stimulus package is like “trying to fit a square peg through a round hole, or drinking out of a firehose”, that our organic community networks have eroded and it takes a lot of work to rebuild them. Things are about to get very interesting in Wilmington. To learn from ECC, you can check out their Energize Your Community toolkit, Energize Your Garden toolkit, and more at http://EnergizeCC.com.