life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yes Martinsville


I grew up on a beautiful, quiet street in small-town America. It's still small and quiet, but not in quite the same way. Thank goodness it's still beautiful, too.... but for how long is anybody's guess.

Two decades ago, Martinsville Virginia had DuPont, Bassett-Walker, Levi Strauss, Hooker Furniture, Bassett Furniture Industries, and many spin-off manufacturing and shipping firms that were interlaced and inter-dependent for supplies and labor.  Today the county in which Martinsville is located has one of the highest unemployment figures in America at over 20% (at one point it has reached as high as 43%).  The present major employers are listed here, and look at their tiny numbers, and also note the fact that most of them are government and very low-paying service industry jobs. This is horrifying considering Martinsville traditionally has pulled employees from three other counties including one in North Carolina.

The Virginia Museum of Natural History is located in Martinsville, which is an affiliate of the Smithsonian. New College and a significant military technology contractor are located there, but are struggling. There was never much of a housing industry because Martinsville & Henry County's population has remained flat for over two decades. Martinsville has received federal grants and millions in private money has poured in, as attempts to revitalize the economy through restructuring toward technology-based businesses, incentives, and very creative new enterprises have all failed to make a dent in the downward spiral that began in the early 1990s with the closure of Tultex Industries, closely followed by DuPont and the rest. The search for economic options has gone to the grassroots level, as unemployed citizens take their campaign to attract a Google pilot infrastructure project to the town to the Internet, in an attempt to gather support from people who used to live there. Politicians regularly visit the area as it's become the poster child for what's wrong with the economy. Small start-ups and Mom & Pop retailers, cafes, and small-scale service industries are the only game in town, and their turnover is staggering because no one has any money to spend.

Overall all of these efforts are failing to reverse the fact that the town is dying. Take a look. I hardly recognize my hometown in these images. The conclusion at the end of the article is sobering to say the least. The writer implies that as Martinsville has gone, so may the rest of America. I'm certain that's extreme, but it does serve to illustrate the acute changes the export of American manufacturing jobs overseas has brought to at least one community. We are fortunate that here in Sumter County we still have a manufacturing base that is higher than the average.

Link to the New Yorker Article - updated link
Another interesting viewpoint comparing the town of Mt Airy and Martinsville
Thank you for your time in reading this and looking at the links and article. Please pass this on to whomever you think would be interested in this or could use a reminder of what we work every day to avoid.

ETA: A Martinsville City Councilman counters with some lovely images in this video. Enjoy!
ETA #2: Most of the links in this article have succumbed to time. Here is a link to the George Packer New Yorker article that mentions Martinsville. I'll try to update the links as they are found.

5 comments:

CZ said...

Well said. I, also, recognize very few of the images in the New Yorker piece. I don't have a reason to go back very often and when I was there in October for my father's funeral, it was exceedingly depressing to drive around and see what has become of Martinsville.

Lynn Crowe Pritchett said...

Oh, how I enjoyed reading this. Yet, there is hope for Martinsville yet! If you have time, please make a case for us to be considered for the Google Gigabit project. Please nominate us. http://www.google.com/appserve/fiberrfi/public/options
By the way, did you know that uptown Martinsville has free wi-fi? When you turn on your laptop and look for an internet connection, you can find it posted as MINet (Martinsville Internet)

+E t e r n a l.A u t u m n+ said...

Thank you for posting this, Mom ~ i'm sending links out to all my fellow Martinsvillian-entrepreneurs... there is a fair amount of us from the "younger" generation that are giving it our all to bring more to this community and we're gonna KEEP trying, by golly.

ccwright1 said...

It took a long time for Martinsville to get in this condition but I do believe that with faith and hard work things can still be turned around. There has always been a natural cycle of ups and downs in every area of life. It will take a commitment from the community and patience on every level. Nothing was ever gained by throwing your hands up and muttering, "it's all over now" as you walked away.

susannah eanes said...

ccwright1 - I agree 100%. The area can only benefit from attention being paid to its situation, I think. It was a very good place to grow up, in many ways our childhoods were insulated from some of the worst that happens so often in other places. It's a beautiful town with lots of promise and an energetic, creative population, and as such it really needs to be given a chance to shine. Martinsville is one of those enduring places that needs to be immortalized in a good old-fashioned short story. I should get on that.