Luring the Kids Back to Their Hometowns

Yesterday, our pal Nona Willis Aronowitz discussed some of the U.S. cities where young people can make a decent living.

Cincinnati Magazine has a story about the city of Wilmington, Ohio, which saw its unemployment rate skyrocket to 19 percent after the city’s biggest employer, DHL, left the city during the Great Recession. Wilmington went into crisis mode to get the city back into shape and persuaded DHL to donate the land and buildings back to the city. The city also convinced a lot of its young people to return to Wilmington after they finished college:

Meanwhile, Energize Clinton County’s Fellows program attracted some interest. After her sophomore year at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Kelsey Swindler was planning a summer internship instead of returning to Wilmington to work for her family’s greenhouse. “I didn’t see myself coming back necessarily,” she says. But during winter break, she met the founders of ECC and changed her mind—for good. She ended up in the first class of Fellows, in 2010, working for local publisher Orange Frazer Press. In 2011 she came home again, serving as a Fellow for four different businesses. Now 23, she’s on the Orange Frazer staff, handling publicity, marketing, editing, and other tasks. While many of her college friends lusted for the big city, she’s come to value a wide circle of young Wilmington professionals who are building careers in their hometown. “I feel very fulfilled,” she says.

Marcy Hawley, who created Orange Frazer in 1987, calls Swindler and her peers the “transformationals”— 20- and 30-something digital natives bringing their skills and energy to bear on a town that badly needs them. At the top of her list of the most transformative are the two buddies from Wilmington High School who created ECC.

Mark Rembert came home first. A 2007 graduate of Haverford College, Rembert returned while waiting for his Peace Corps assignment in Ecuador to begin. About a month later, his friend Taylor Stuckert also returned. Stuckert was in the Peace Corps, too, but the Bolivia office where he was serving had been closed because of political unrest. Rembert and Stuckert decided they would take Peace Corps assignments later that year and help with the unfolding hometown crisis in the meantime. “When we started Energize Clinton County, we thought, ‘Oh, we’ll do this for a few months and then head to the Peace Corps,’” says Rembert. “Then it became six months and then it became a year. When we were growing up, it was [considered] a failure to come back to Wilmington,” he adds. “The idea was if you could leave, you should leave.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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