A region in economic turnmoil. The industry that once sustained it is disappearing. Jobs are vanishing too. People are facing the spectre of leaving the place they've called home for generations for the hope of a better shot somewhere else. Children will leave the schools as they follow their parents. Today's city could be tomorrow's shell.
A few nights ago, Anj and I got a sitter (Thanks Lindsey!), and took a walking tour of Wausau's Historic East Hill neighborhood that was hosted by the Marathon County Historical Society.
All told, it was a really neat tour. I've walked/biked/wandered through the area a few times in the past, but our guide was excellent at pointing out the little details and sharing the history that one can't pick up on one of my little jaunts.
Our guide also got me thinking about something.
Every fall, I assist the Wausau Paranormal Research Society with their "Haunted Wausau Tours."
In addition to sharing all of the spooky stuff that happens in Wausau, these tours also share a bit of history about the area. One piece of history that always stands out to me is Wausau's transition from logging town to full fledged city.
Once upon a time, the timber industry was ALL Wausau had. As that industry started drying up, Wausau's rich and powerful decided that they wanted to make sure the city would continue on even when the timber was gone.
This group of men (mostly timber barons who were surely supported and counciled by some very wise women) poured their hearts and souls into the well being of the city they loved. We're talking about the people who have streets and buildings named after them today. Yawkey. Woodson. Stewart. The biggest players in Wausau's game reinvested in the community. They started new businesses. They wheeled and dealed to get other entreprenuers to come to town.
Without them, the city would have fallen into economic ruin. The metropolis you see today would...not...exist.
Instead of this...
...we woulda had that.
Today, the Wausau area is facing some of the same challenges. The story repeats itself in Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, Stevens Point, Merrill and just about everywhere else too.
The paper industry isn't what it used to be. After all, you're not exactly reading this in a magazine, are you? The housing market is challenging to say the least. Our globalized economy has created a rush to the lowest possible price, even if it means outsourcing the labor it takes to create the product. Heck, even Harley's considering leaving the state.
My question is, are there men and women who will step up to save their city?
In this day of publically traded stocks, a thoroughly globalized economy and a prevailing "profit at ALL costs" business atmosphere, does that sort of man or woman exist anymore, or does everyone just pull up stakes, cut the workforce loose and retire someplace else?
In this day where we don't have to shop down the street anymore because a world of goods is a mouseclick away, can that man or woman exist anymore?
I know we have economic task forces, consultants, and other "throw tax dollars at the problem" items that our government puts together for the purposes of economic growth, but I've always favored the individual over the group when it comes to getting things done.
Does that individual exist anymore?
I believe they do, but they don't get much press. If you are one, if you know one, please let me know. I'd love to feature an individual of that sort in this blog.