Wilmington: Hardship in the Heartland

Jan 26, 2009 at 2:49 pm

According to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, Wilmington, Ohio is "a little bit like Katrina without the physical damage, ground zero for unemployment." Last night, 60 Minutes featured a segment profiling Wilmington as its largest employer prepares to shut down. Pelley's words are a strong statement for a small town that's near and dear to my heart.—-


My sister, Jen, moved to Wilmington 13 years ago in the name of love and is now married to Wilmington native Jason Satterfield. Over that time, I have come to appreciate the slow pace and rural scene it has to offer. Wilmington's downtown is quaint, a little larger than Hyde Park Square, filled with small businesses surrounding the courthouse and city hall. My memory is foggy at best, but I remember when WalMart landed in Wilmington a few years ago. That was a big day and an even bigger deal. That was then, when this small town's economy was booming.

Money Magazine named Wilmington one of "The Best Places to Live" in 2007, and it ranked the No. 1 "Most Livable Neighborhood" in 1995 in Cincinnati Magazine's survey of surrounding cities and towns. Lost in Yonkers found and filmed some of its small town charm and, for what it's worth, the Cincinnati Bengals' training camp was rooted at Wilmington College for 29 seasons (during the "Who Dey" heydey).

Today, Wilmington finds itself in great peril as its largest employer closes its doors. German-owned DHL is shutting down its domestic shipping hub this week, costing more than 10,000 jobs in the end. One in three households will be affected in Wilmington. This reaches not only Clinton County (12,000 pop.), but surrounding Fayette, Warren, Highland and Brown counties as well (28,500 cumulative population). This must be nearly comparable to Cincinnati losing Kroger or P&G. One Wilmington resident interviewed spoke of going to "no electricity Tuesday nights" and doing things by candlelight. Are we seriously to that point?

The federal government recently infused $500 million into the state's depleted unemployment fund to cover just January and February payments. Former supervisors can't get retail or factory jobs. Unemployment and under-employment are parallel. With the unemployment rate on the rise, what happens in March? Ohio is one of 50 states in trouble.

President Obama spoke of Wilmington's hardship during his campaign last fall, as did Sen. John McCain. And during his inaugural speech, Obama spoke of "the winter of our hardship." Lasting words that hit home in the heartland to the residents of Wilmington.