How to build a local economy

On the other side of the state from Youngstown, where a business incubator is helping to stave off the worst effects of the declining industrial economy, Wilmington, Ohio, is trying to figure out what happens after 8,000 DHL jobs disappear. This AP story outlines their creative answer with a three-pronged strategy:

  • Shop at local stores to keep money from leaving the economy
  • Grow food to save money and relieve dependence on food banks
  • Weatherize homes to cut energy bills and put people to work

Local commerce and green jobs are an appealing solution to the problems facing places like Youngstown and Wilmington. The new stimulus bill has $11 billion to weatherize low-income homes. The campaign in Wilmington hopes to use $30 million of it to create 1,300 jobs making 10,000 homes more energy efficient. The program, Energize Clinton County, is being launched by two locals who are delaying the Peace Corps to work at home.

Will it work? Even if all those jobs are created, it’s still a fraction of the number that will be lost when the DHL hub closes. As I said below, the challenges in this economy are tremendous. But it seems clear that a local economy based on a broad Web of small and mid-sized businesses in different industries is more resilient than one dependent on luring a handful of large employers — and gambling that they stick around. So the question for entrepreneurs and communities alike: How do you create the conditions where those diverse local economies can grow, particularly in places like the Rust Belt that may suffer the worst of this crisis?

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