Ohio Community Needs Your Help to Ensure Green Future
by Nonpartisan, Thu Nov 20, 2008 at 08:16:42 PM EST
In Wilmington, Ohio, Sherry Barrett is crying.
Like many areas in the United States, Sherry's hometown of Wilmington, Ohio has been devastated by the economic meltdown. Local employer DHL Express will close its factory on January 30, laying off 8,200 workers like Sherry. In a city of 12,000, with thousands more in the surrounding area, you can bet Sherry isn't the only one crying.
But if you don't enjoy watching Sherry and other Wilmington residents cry, you're not alone -- two recent college grads from Wilmington don't much like it either. Their bold solution: ENERGIZE Clinton County, a bold plan to revitalize Wilmington by recruiting green businesses and turning the county into Ohio's first "Green Enterprise Zone." Over the flip, I'll tell you how they plan to do it, and what you can do to help.
Mark Rembert and Taylor Stuckert grew up in Wilmington, where they graduated from Wilmington High School. Taylor's the outgoing one; he was a varsity tennis player in high school, volunteered for various political campaigns in college, worked at a law firm, and briefly enlisted in the Peace Corps before the Bolivian government kicked out all the volunteers in September. Mark has a resume even longer than Taylor's, coupled with a head for business: he earned a degree in economics, worked at an economic think tank in Philadelphia, and worked for a PR firm.
When you speak with the two men, Taylor does most of the talking. You could easily mistake him for a human ball of energy. "This organization is about 11 days old, started out of a cannon," he says. "It's being pushed in a generally inactive political environment and therefore is picking up steam." When he returned from his Peace Corps stint, Taylor was shocked at what he found back home in Wilmington: a town essentially in mourning, preparing for the kind of devastation that has hit so many other areas of America's heartland. He contacted Mark, and things just snowballed from there. "What started as a phone call, typical back-and-forth brainstorming, and a couple of letters to the local newspaper has blossomed into an organization," the two men write on their website. "Being home at this time, and feeling that 'fierce urgency of now,' we are now dedicated to working hand-in-hand with the community that reared us in advocating not only what will save Clinton County from collapse, but what will bring its potential to life and be the example of what is to come for our country."
ENERGIZE Clinton County advocates the convergence of two critical economic needs: the need for Wilmington to deal with its looming unemployment crisis, and the need for Ohio to invest in green business. "We believe that our community's survival depends on developing a thriving Green economy,"write Mark and Taylor. "We are asking our leaders and our fellow citizens to develop an ambitious economic re-development plan that seeks to establish Clinton County as the center for Green business in southwest Ohio. We propose to designate Wilmington as Ohio's first Green Enterprise Zone to attract and reward employers who offer sustainable Green Collar jobs to Clinton County's displaced workforce."
What exactly is a "Green Enterprise Zone"? It's an invention of Van Jones, an Oakland-based author and think tank founder. Jones argues that two of America's greatest problems, poverty and the energy crisis, can be solved at one blow -- by subsidizing businesses that use or create alternative energy in economically devastated areas. Here's a short clip of Jones explaining this idea.
Why is Wilmington an ideal location for a Green Enterprise Zone? Primarily because it has what many other communities don't: a large reservoir of unemployed skilled labor. "The Wilmington workforce has shown itself to be skilled and productive," write Taylor and Matt; "now it can lead the way for a historic Green Collar development initiative." The city's size and location -- small enough to be free from urban regulatory constraints, yet near enough to three major cities to serve urban markets -- also make it an excellent fit for green development. Finally, the political environment makes adopting such a plan very feasible. Ohio's Governor, Ted Strickland, represented Wilmington in Congress until 2006, so his sympathies may still lie with the area. Strickland, Senator Sherrod Brown, and President-Elect Obama have all publicly committed to developing green jobs, and they might find it difficult to resist a call for such a plan in Wilmington were enough public pressure to be applied.
That's exactly what Taylor and Matt plan to do. The two men are still hammering out the details of their plan, Taylor says: "We're working on our economic policy to pitch next." Soon, they hope to have a formal Green Enterprise Zone proposal to present to state and national officials (they're already in communication with city government and local progressive organizations). For now, though, they want to continue to spread the word and gather as much local -- and national -- support as possible.
What You Can Do
If you live in Ohio, Mark and Taylor want you to e-mail local and state elected officials, along with the Obama transition team, urging them to make the Clinton County Green Enterprise Zone a reality. They've compiled a list of e-mail contact information for these folks. They also urge you to write letters to your local Ohio newspapers; the contact information for these is on the same page.
If you don't live in Ohio, the best thing for you to do right now is to sign up for ENERGIZE Clinton County's e-mail list. Soon, there will be more tangible ways for you to help, including financial donations. They'll let you know about all this as soon as it's available. If you'd like to contact the organizers directly with advice or suggestions, you can use the same form. Finally, if you or someone you know would be willing to volunteer your time with the group, please don't hesitate to let them know -- as any activist on this site knows, activists need all the help they can get.
The two men still aren't sure whether they'll return to the Peace Corps in February, as scheduled. Depending on the success of ENERGIZE Clinton County, their plans may change. "This initiative is an urgent cause," says Taylor. Imbued with "the fierce urgency of now," as our President-Elect put it, the two young men of ENERGIZE Clinton County are working tirelessly to meet their community's needs. That's something that should make even Sherry Barrett smile.Cross-posted.