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Tuesday, March 2, 2010
New ghost towns: Industrial communities teeter on the edge
RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. — When Henry Kaiser arrived 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.
"The way things are going," he says, "there's not going to be anything here."
The difference is that people could leave a ghost town — miners to work new veins, farmers to till fresh land, merchants to move closer to road or rail.
Today, Tim Shumaker sees no such options. In past layoffs, he always found work somewhere; now there seems to be none anywhere.