New ghost towns: industrial communities teeter on the edge
When Henry Kaiser arrived [in Ravenswood, W.Va.] 55 years ago, this place was no place — "a rural problem area," the government called it, so poor and isolated that the population had dropped 15% since 1940. That all changed after Kaiser, the industrialist who'd turned out ships and planes at a record pace in World War II, built the nation's largest consolidated aluminum works here on the banks of the Ohio River. The plant paid Tim Shumaker his first living wage, and he won the right to keep it two decades ago after his union was locked out for 19 months. Today, that victory seems hollow. Shumaker, 49, has been laid off. Part of the vast aluminum complex is closed, and the rest is for sale — its orders down, its workforce reduced, its future uncertain. Shumaker stands at the locked plant gate and, after a year without work, worries what's next for him and his community. "The way things are going," he says, "there's not going to be anything here." Ravenswood, with 4,000 people and one big factory, is like many US towns where things still are made: caught in a winter between recession and recovery, hoping the latter will arrive before the former kills the last decent blue-collar job.