US town in recession fight-back

Business and community leaders are equipping locals to adapt to changing economic times.


    Until recently the manufacturing industry has provided work for many in Danville [GALLO/GETTY]

    Al Jazeera is following the effects of the global recession on towns across the globe.

    Two months after first observing the impact of the global recession on Danville, Virginia, Cath Turner and Catherine Stancl returned to see if there are any signs of recovery.

    Over the past 10 years, the economy in Danville, Virginia has been slowly shrinking. 

    In depth

     A special report on the economic crisis
     Read the first report on Danville, Virginia
     Meet the locals

    It is a town that was built on three once-booming industries: textiles, tobacco and manufacturing.

    But those days are gone and the economic downturn has really taken hold of Danville during the past two years.

    Hundreds of jobs have gone overseas, companies have shut down and laid off workers.

    The current global economic crisis has hit the town hard but the workplace has also evolved, with more technology-based industries driving the economy.

    The result of these factors is that Danville now has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the state of Virginia. And most of those without a job have training and experience in businesses which have folded or no longer need them.

    Fighting back

    But Danville is fighting back.

    Business and community leaders have recognised the need to re-train and re-educate their workforce and diversify people's skills.

    Danville Community College is leading the way in expanding students' knowledge and preparing them for re-entry into the workplace.

    Some of its students are graduating with advanced manufacturing skills; all of them are armed with the ability to pursue new job opportunities and sell themselves to potential employers.

    Many in Danville previously had no need for a resume and had never been through a difficult interview process.

    This is because generations of families have worked in the same place, for the same company.

    Young people assumed they would follow in their parents' or friends' footsteps, and were often offered work on a factory floor immediately without prior experience or qualifications.

    Now those people are older and trying to make their way back into a very different working environment.

    'Green shoots'

    There has been a lot of talk in the US about 'green shoots' of recovery - small signs that the recession may be over and the economic recovery has begun.

    In video

    Danville starting to see some improvement

    More videos ...
    These indicators are reflected on a smaller scale in Danville.

    Many manufacturing companies have recently begun hiring more staff, which means they are getting more orders for their products. This in turn means that demand and credit is starting to flow again.

    By the end of May, EBI - a mattress and sofa supplier to IKEA – will have hired 95 people since January.

    Riverside Roof Trusts expects to have 35 job vacancies in the near future.

    TelVista, a customer care consultant centre, is also hiring. And Goodyear Tyre has just signed a new military contract.

    Business leaders are also continuing their efforts to make Danville an attractive place for international companies to set up their US headquarters.

    Another positive trend is the unemployment rate, which is one of the highest in the state of Virginia.

    In February, it stood at 16.8 per cent – twice the US average.

    According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, Danville's unemployment rate fell by more than three per cent to 13.7 per cent.

    This is an important and encouraging sign and many believe that trend will continue.

    Changing times

    But there is plenty of proof that many in Danville are still hurting and still struggling. 

    Jobs are slowly starting to return to Danville
    Several shop fronts in Danville's main street remain empty with 'For Sale' and 'For Lease' signs in the windows.

    Some companies are still under a hiring freeze. And the unemployed list is still very long.

    In early May, a new restaurant called Golden Corral opened in Danville, selling inexpensive, buffet-style food. The restaurant advertised 65 jobs. More than 500 people applied, some with Masters degrees.

    Community and business leaders know there is still a long way to go until Danville is back on its feet and people are working again.

    But the most important development in this town is its recognition that times have changed, and its willingness to adapt to an evolving workplace.

    This town cannot afford and does not want to be left behind. And its people are taking the necessary steps to ensure Danville's survival and revival.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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