‘Not what it used to be’

“Piqua’s not what it used to be.”

It is a phrase I hear many times from people who left the community and came back, but it is said with an endearment for the Piqua we are seeing now instead of with a longing for the “good old days.” I was told that Piqua was one of those towns that had more bars than churches. Piqua was known for being a “rough town” rather than the city we see now with a connected religious community, a growing and increasingly vibrant downtown area, and a popular bike path.

Guest columnist Bill Jaqua’s recent series on the city of Piqua talks a lot of talk about the city without citing his sources or supporting his claims. The frustration he expresses, though, is felt by many people who are tired of being limited financially. The most recent recession that started in 2008 has left many of us feeling anxious for jobs. Even if we have jobs, we want more jobs. We want that economic mobility.

“In years past, the needs of Piqua and its residents were fully met by a strong manufacturing and industrial base,” Jaqua wrote.

Piqua still has a way to go to come back from the loss of industries in the 1980s, but we still have a manufacturing and industrial base.

According to Piqua’s 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Industry Products Company (IPC) is Piqua’s biggest employer with 351 employees. IPC is followed by Walmart (345 employees), Piqua City Schools (316), Evenflo (285), Tailwind Technologies/Hartzell Propeller (268), Crane Pumps and Systems (240), Upper Valley Career Center (235), city of Piqua (195), Edison Community College (160), and Jackson Tube Service (160).

On that list of top 10 employers in Piqua, five fall into that category of manufacturing and industry.

In addition to those companies, we are also currently home to another long list of other companies, including (feel free to skip this paragraph): Nitto Denko, Midwest Maintenance, Inc., Miami Valley Steel Service, Isaiah Industries, Lostcreek Tool and Machine, Inc., LWB/ISE, MCD Plastics, P and R Specialty, Inc., Palmer Bolt and Supply, Piqua Champion Foundry, Piqua Emery Foundry, Piqua Materials, Inc., Piqua Paper Box, Piqua Pizza Supply Co., Inc., Polysource, Inc., PSC Crane and Rigging, Retterbush Fiberglass Corp., T. K. Holding, Inc., Wise Hearing Solutions, Tempo Wood Products Inc., The French Oil Mill Machinery Company, J.W. Harris Company, Urban Elsass and Son, Inc., US Kondo Corporation, USI Cable Corp., Apex Die Casting, The Orr Felt Co., Barrett Paving Materials, Cavalier Products/Fireglass, Coilplus Berwick, Crayex Corporation, Custom Aerosol Packaging, Denizen, Inc., Forrest Enterprises, Harmony Systems, and more.

We have a Manufacturing Council in the region for a reason. Have I made my point yet? Did we also forget that we are going to get a super cool chocolate factory?

“Today, most of these business[es] have owners who don’t live here,” Jaqua wrote, without using any examples. Jaqua criticized these alleged business owners who have a company in Piqua but then live somewhere else before later writing, “We have a family business in Chicago.” Sounds a little like the pot calling the kettle black.

It is true, though, that manufacturing and industry base currently in Piqua is not what it was in the middle of the 20th century. Piqua is not the only city to have suffered along the Rust Belt, the area along the northeastern part of the Unites States, including along the Great Lakes and through Midwest states.

The term “Rust Belt” describes the economic downturn, population decline, and urban decay due to a decreasing industrial sector, particularly in the 1980s, as explained by Robert W. Crandall in his book The Continuing Decline of Manufacturing in the Rust Belt. According to Crandall, the Rust Belt stretches from south-central New York through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, in northern Illinois, and eastern Wisconsin.

We are not alone in this. The problem of our economic base is more complex than blaming it on “our outdated charter system” of a local government, as Jaqua wrote.

This editorial will be the first in a series in response to Jaqua’s recent column series. I will go into further discussion about the Rust Belt and the loss of some of Piqua’s historic industries. I will also highlight the discussions that the city has been having during work sessions and other public meetings to show what their plans are for attracting both more residents and more businesses.

“Piqua’s not what it used to be.” That carries many meanings. Piqua still has a long way to go, but that does not mean that Piqua has not already crossed a fair distance.