Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recession leaves Nebraska town in limbo

In the cover story of today's Sunday Business section of the New York Times, David Segal reports from micropolitan Columbus, Nebraska, population 21,504. Columbus, the county seat of Platte County, has the state's highest per-capita rate of employment in manufacturing and--not coincidentally--is notoriously anti-union. Segal's headline is "Enter the Recession's Waiting Room," and Segal explains why the recession has both employers and employees in limbo, waiting for economic recovery to bring orders flowing back in and--with them--economic revival. A colorful excerpt follows:

A sign about 17 miles outside of town says “Columbus Is Open for Business,” and the more time you spend here, the more literal those words sound.

You can see management’s unfettered hand in the vaguely Dickensian hours that many here work, and you sense an emphasis on unfettered growth in the just-build-it ethos that governs the stretch of strip malls on the road that bisects the town. It’s fast food, a Wal-Mart, a J. C. Penney, check-cashing outlets and dozens of other stores. The traffic to this generic stretch has come at the apparent expense of a fading but picturesque downtown — a Hopper-esque setting, with a railroad station, some gorgeous early 20th century buildings and a former opera house that is now a minimall.

Read more here--about the town, its people, its economy, and its likely future.

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