Revitalizing A Rusty Old Town
By Cynthia Bowers, CBSNews
An abandoned steel mill on the outskirts of Braddock, Pa. is all that’s left in a river valley that once hummed with the sounds of metal — and money being made.
“Steel meant everything to the area,” says Braddock Mayor John Fetterman. “It meant jobs. It meant a source of pride.”
For a century, the Pittsburgh area was the steel capital of the world, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers. That was until the 1980s, when foreign competitors came up with new innovations and America’s steel industry went bust.
The plant used to employ 2,500 people. What happened here in 1984 happened all across Pennsylvania’s Monongahela Valley, leaving once thriving communities like Braddock clinging to life and worrying that the next closure could mean death for the town.
“This was the second Pittsburgh right here,” says Ray Henderson , who lost his job when the mill closed. “There were so many small plants that were connected to the steel industry that employed 100, 150 or maybe 50 people they went down also.”
And when the jobs disappeared the shops and the banks vanished too.
“It’s a community that’s definitely had its heart broken,” Mayor Fetterman says.
He’s fighting to revitalize what’s left, in a town that lost 90 percent of its population. Fewer than 3,000 people live here but unemployment tops 15 percent, Bowers reports. The struggles here, as in so much of the rust belt, are magnified by the recession.
“If the government has $140 billion for AIG, these communities deserve a greater share of the attention and the dollars,” Fetterman says.
He’s looking to President Obama’s economic stimulus package for help. Government investment in infrastructure could salvage a steel industry that has seen prices drop 50 percent – in just the last 4 months. That money could also bring much needed sewer, road and bridge improvements to Braddock. Just $3 million could build a community center and create dozens of jobs.
Fetterman is looking beyond steel at some of those green jobs the President talks about. He’d like to turn this abandoned mill into a $300 million green enterprise center.
“We did help build up the backbone of this country and we’re not looking for a hand out so much as we’re looking for a hand up,” Fetterman says,
For a town with a past, Braddock is desperate to forge a future.