GREENVILLE, Mich.—Here's a recipe for life in the de-industrialized Midwest:
Take one factory.
Decontaminate the waste.
Expose the thick beams and brickwork.
Toss up some drywall, run a few pipes and connect the track lighting.
Throw down a little carpeting or refinish the wooden planks.
The Midwest manufacturing belt is going condo, and America's heartland will never be the same.
Its communities were built to last on the strength of big-shouldered employers. But the free flow of capital across borders, the absence of restraints from government and the triumph of cost-cutting above competing considerations has cleared the way for an outmigration of blue-collar jobs.
This week, the Chicago Tribune concludes a series of stories about the region's vanishing smokestacks with a look at a small town facing a big blow as a result of low-cost competition abroad. The good news: Condo sales are going strong.
When Mayor Lloyd Walker got the news that this city of 8,000 would lose its 2,700-employee refrigerator plant to Mexico, he figured that other Rust Belt communities facing the same sort of economic disaster would know just what to do.
So he went looking for examples of Midwest cities that had turned back the forces of globalization and kept their industrial base intact.
"I couldn't find one," Walker said. "I don't know what works."
Easy answers? Not here. The citizens of Greenville are facing the fight of their lives, and they have plenty of company.
The nation's industrial heartland appears to be sinking fast, leaving behind no tried-and-true formula for replacing thousands of good-paying jobs that disappear overseas or through restructuring.
With global economic forces sweeping away long-standing employers, no one can confidently depend on a single plant to sustain a community.
"It's a movement you can't stop," Walker observed.
In recent weeks, the Chicago Tribune has profiled Detroit, Rockford and Milwaukee as these Midwest manufacturing icons struggle to transform their economies under relentless pressure.