Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

America’s Route to Recovery: Part Two – A New Revolution

Dec 29, 2009 22:28 UTC

For the Reuters multimedia project Route to Recovery, a team of journalists toured America to examine the impact of the recession and posted their reports on reuters.com. For the last installment in the series, reporter Nick Carey has written an extended overview of the challenges and opportunities facing the country.  The second part of this three-part report is below. Click here for part one.

Leslie Taito is executive director of Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services (RIMES), a nonprofit that provides consultation for small and medium-sized manufacturers in Rhode Island, a state of 1 million people.

Rhode Island was the home of America’s first mechanized cotton mill, but since Taito arrived 16 years ago, the number of manufacturers here has fallen to 1,945 from 2,800. Still, she believes that all of those that are left can be helped to survive and thrive — and the best way is to get smart and not try to compete with low-cost Chinese producers.

“Manufacturers have to specialize and find a niche where they develop high-end goods that are not sold just based on cost,” Taito said. “Sure, China can make it cheaper than we can,” she said, while weaving in and out of traffic en route through the heart of Providence. “But what they don’t have is the design or engineering capabilities that we do.”

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Maria Montero carries plastic products for quality control inspection at Blow Molded Plastics in Pawtucket, Rhode Island November 17, 2009.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

One of the companies that RIMES has worked with in the past is Pawtucket-based Blow Molded Specialties, which makes products from hot plastic that is blown into molds where it sets. Its clients are predominantly in the healthcare sector.

President and majority owner Tom Boyd describes how the company’s largest customer switched production of a basic product to Mexico because it could be made there for 2 cents apiece instead of 8 cents in the United States.

That company had accounted for some 35 percent of business. “That was nearly the end of us,” Boyd said with a wry smile.

So instead of trying to compete on low-cost products, Boyd’s company specializes in high-end, complicated and intricate products, and even develops products for customers.

In the company’s meeting room, he shows off some of the firm’s products including one which looks almost like a plastic accordion and is about the same size, with evident pride.

This, he explains, is a plastic bellows his firm developed for a healthcare company, whose name he says he cannot divulge. It has a special function. Conventional practice in organ transplants has been to ship organs on ice. But Boyd says it has been found that a better way to ship organs is to keep them functioning, and the bellows he holds in his hands is part of a device to keep a set of lungs pumping while in transit.

Asked how much Blow Molded charges for a pump like this, Boyd shrugs his slight shoulders. “Maybe a few dollars each. And we only sold a few of them.”

But then he leans forward with right eyebrow and right forefinger raised. “Ah, but you see, the money’s not in the product,” he said, his grin widening. “The money’s in the engineering. We bill our customers for the development work we do.”

Communities around the country say they want to attract small firms like Blow Molded rather than focus on major corporations, for the simple reason that when a giant plant shuts down, it is almost impossible to replace the jobs lost.

The classic example is Wilmington, Ohio, where empty store fronts on Main Street are grim testimony to what happened when DHL axed nearly 10,000 jobs.

“When a big company like that goes, it leaves a very large hole to fill,” said Mayor David Raizk (pronounced “risk.”)

“I’d rather see 200 small companies with 50 employees each than one big one,” he said. “You can lose one, two or even 10 of those and find a way to replace them. Big companies are great when they’re in town, but when they leave they devastate communities.”

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A pelican flies near a fisherman in Pensacola, Florida November 11, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

One such small firm is Computer Technology Solutions Inc, the largest privately-held software firm in Alabama, which has added some 40 jobs this year and now employs 150 people. “If that’s what we can do in a recession, imagine how we can do when the economy improves,” said president Sanjay Singh.

CTS got its start in a business incubator run by the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Singh said that unlike big corporations — which tend to be bureaucratic, slow-moving and inclined to withhold responsibility from young employees — CTS gives its 20-something employees multimillion-dollar projects to run on their own.

“If you give young people responsibility, they deliver,” he said. “We don’t hang over our employees’ shoulders waiting for them to get things done, we just let them do it.”

GREEN ECONOMY A LONG HAUL
There are great expectations that alternative energy or the “green economy” will help move America forward.

According to Lisa Frantzis, managing director for energy at Navigant Consulting Inc, in 2009, 7,000 megawatts of wind power was installed in America with the creation of 70,000 jobs — 50,000 direct and indirect jobs, plus 20,000 service-related jobs. Solar power saw 300 megawatts installed with the creation of 60,000 jobs.

Jay Paidipati, a Navigant managing consultant who works with Frantzis, said because of the industry’s breadth and relative youth, it is hard to make forecasts. “I would feel comfortable saying that the number of green jobs will be in the millions,” he said. “Just how many millions, I don’t know.”

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Mesquite Lake Cattle Manure Power Plant is seen in El Centro, California, November 3, 2009.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

It will be years, however, before that potential is realized. One of the main problems is the mass of rules and regulations that make building plants a lengthy process.

Imperial County in southern California has hit on a novel way to get around red tape, using a provision of state law that allows local authorities to streamline the approval process for building a plant, as long as it is under 50 megawatts.

This loophole enables officials to handle the approval process in as little as a year, compared to several years at the state level.

“Getting anything done in California is hard,” said Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation CEO Tim Kelley, at his office in El Centro some 100 miles (160 km) east of San Diego. “But it is less hard to get it done here.”

This area has 360 days of sun a year and has suitable geological conditions for geothermal power — there are 10 such plants already. Thirty others for solar, geothermal and wind facilities, are in the process of acquiring permits.

Red tape is not the only challenge.

Paul Rich is chief development officer at Deepwater Wind LLC, which aims to develop America’s first offshore wind farm, in Rhode Island. The farm, which would eventually provide 15 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity, should come in two phases. The first test phase with six to eight turbines could be installed off the coast by 2012. By around 2015 the wind farm would contain around 100 wind turbines.

Rich described the coast between Maine and Maryland as the “Saudi Arabia of wind,” predicting an “enormous, exponential leap in jobs, manufacturing and infrastructure.”

Part of the reason for the long lead time is the need for extensive tests of local wind conditions, he said.
“It won’t happen overnight,” Rich said. “We are trying to create a truly new industry here and it has to be done right.”

“A far bigger concern for us is finding a qualified workforce to run and maintain the wind farm when it becomes operational.”

In blighted states like Michigan, many former manufacturing workers are already training for green jobs, even though relatively few have been created.

Matthew Derra, 41, lost his job at struggling auto supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc in July 2008. Now he is taking an associate degree in renewable energy and wants to find a job maintaining wind turbines.

“There’s nothing out there in my old field of work,” he said. “And there will be thousands of people out there chasing every green job, but I have to try.”

“I can’t just sit home and watch television.”

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April Metts watches television at her apartment in Providence, Rhode Island November 18, 2009.  Metts was homeless for several years before getting into her subsidized apartment as part of the Housing First RI initiative.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Even in California, which has America’s most aggressive climate change regulations, just 159,000 of the state’s 18 million jobs are considered “green” as of the start of 2008, according to public policy group Next 10.

Still, there are encouraging signs that money is flowing into renewable energy even in a sluggish economy.

Bill Gibson, is a business broker and principal of Gibson & Associates Inc in Pensacola, Florida. Gibson finds buyers for companies that want to sell.

He noted that companies selling luxury items are having trouble finding buyers because gun-shy banks won’t lend for that kind of investment, but he has noticed a lot more interest in renewable or alternative energy firms.

“There are definitely going to be haves and have-nots,” Gibson said. “Green energy is part of the future.”

The green energy industry is also seen as an opportunity for manufacturing firms to retool.

“What concerns me is when I hear people talking about manufacturing in the past tense,” said Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing. “If we want wind turbines, someone here should manufacture them.”

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The Vulcan statue is seen at Vulcan Park in  Birmingham, Alabama November 14, 2009. The Vulcan statue is a symbol of old times at the iron industry in Birmingham.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

GEEKS AT THE TABLE
Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, keeps a board covered in bad news — headlines from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Economist about how badly the economy of the state has been faring. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was 12.7 percent in November, the second highest in the country after Michigan.

“Our problems have made not just national but international headlines,” White said. “That motivates me to find a new way forward.”

Rhode Island is pinning its hopes on a strategy dubbed “Strengthening Providence’s Knowledge Economy.” It has involved bringing together local and state government, the Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) and hundreds of small hi-tech software companies.

“The geeks have finally been offered a seat at the table,” said business consultant Jack Templin.

White said there was an easy explanation: “The geeks are just about the only ones creating jobs right now.”
Companies like Working Planet, which handles algorithmic online market research for its clients, are now at the table.

“Up until a few years ago the chamber was focused on major companies and its existing membership base,” said Working Planet Marketing Group Inc president and co-founder Soren Ryherd. “Over the past three years the chamber has done an about face and is now also about the smaller companies that are creating jobs.”

“We have also become more organized because we need to reach the local universities so we can find and retain top talent,” he added.

Mike Saul is the interim executive director of the RIEDC and has spent much of his career as a “turnaround guy” taking poorly performing companies and making them thrive. He wants to do the same here, in part because three of his four children, like many of the state’s offspring, live outside Rhode Island because there was no work here for them.

“In any turnaround that is going to work you have to ask where is the enterprise value that I can push forward,” he said. According to Saul, the state’s education system and its wind potential create much of its enterprise value.

“Rhode Island’s attempts at economic development have been episodic in the past, but this time everyone is on the same page,” Saul said. “A crisis makes things happen. It helps individuals reinvent themselves and will help this country reinvent itself.”

Part Three – The Mind Factory

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A U.S. flag decal is stuck to the window in a door to the Harrington Hall homeless shelter in Cranston, Rhode Island November 18, 2009.    REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A NEW REVOLUTION
Leslie Taito is executive director of Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services (RIMES), a nonprofit that provides consultation for small and medium-sized manufacturers in Rhode Island, a state of 1 million people.
Rhode Island was the home of America’s first mechanized cotton mill, but since Taito arrived 16 years ago, the number of manufacturers here has fallen to 1,945 from 2,800. Still, she believes that all of those that are left can be helped to survive and thrive — and the best way is to get smart and not try to compete with low-cost Chinese producers.
“Manufacturers have to specialize and find a niche where they develop high-end goods that are not sold just based on cost,” Taito said. “Sure, China can make it cheaper than we can,” she said, while weaving in and out of traffic en route through the heart of Providence. “But what they don’t have is the design or engineering capabilities that we do.”
One of the companies that RIMES has worked with in the past is Pawtucket-based Blow Molded Specialties, which makes products from hot plastic that is blown into molds where it sets. Its clients are predominantly in the healthcare sector.
President and majority owner Tom Boyd describes how the company’s largest customer switched production of a basic product to Mexico because it could be made there for 2 cents apiece instead of 8 cents in the United States.
That company had accounted for some 35 percent of business. “That was nearly the end of us,” Boyd said with a wry smile.
So instead of trying to compete on low-cost products, Boyd’s company specializes in high-end, complicated and intricate products, and even develops products for customers.
In the company’s meeting room, he shows off some of the firm’s products including one which looks almost like a plastic accordion and is about the same size, with evident pride.
This, he explains is a plastic bellows his firm developed for a healthcare company, whose name he says he cannot divulge. It has a special function. Conventional practice in organ transplants has been to ship organs on ice. But Boyd says it has been found that a better way to ship organs is to keep them functioning, and the bellows he holds in his hands is part of a device to keep a set of lungs pumping while in transit.
Asked how much Blow Molded charges for a pump like this, Boyd shrugs his slight shoulders. “Maybe a few dollars each. And we only sold a few of them.”
But then he leans forward with right eyebrow and right forefinger raised. “Ah, but you see, the money’s not in the product,” he said, his grin widening. “The money’s in the engineering. We bill our customers for the development work we do.”
Communities around the country say they want to attract small firms like Blow Molded rather than focus on major corporations, for the simple reason that when a giant plant shuts down, it is almost impossible to replace the jobs lost.
The classic example is Wilmington, Ohio, where empty store fronts on Main Street are grim testimony to what happened when DHL axed nearly 10,000 jobs.
“When a big company like that goes, it leaves a very large hole to fill,” said Mayor David Raizk (pronounced “risk.”)
“I’d rather see 200 small companies with 50 employees each than one big one,” he said. “You can lose one, two or even 10 of those and find a way to replace them. Big companies are great when they’re in town, but when they leave they devastate communities.”
One such small firm is Computer Technology Solutions Inc, the largest privately-held software firm in Alabama, which has added some 40 jobs this year and now employs 150 people. “If that’s what we can do in a recession, imagine how we can do when the economy improves,” said president Sanjay Singh.
CTS got its start in a business incubator run by the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Singh said that unlike big corporations — which tend to be bureaucratic, slow-moving and inclined to withhold responsibility from young employees — CTS gives its 20-something employees multimillion-dollar projects to run on their own.
“If you give young people responsibility, they deliver,” he said. “We don’t hang over our employees’ shoulders waiting for them to get things done, we just let them do it.”

GREEN ECONOMY A LONG HAUL
There are great expectations that alternative energy or the “green economy” will help move America forward.
According to Lisa Frantzis, managing director for energy at Navigant Consulting Inc, in 2009, 7,000 megawatts of wind power was installed in America with the creation of 70,000 jobs — 50,000 direct and indirect jobs, plus 20,000 service-related jobs. Solar power saw 300 megawatts installed with the creation of 60,000 jobs.
Jay Paidipati, a Navigant managing consultant who works with Frantzis, said because of the industry’s breadth and relative youth, it is hard to make forecasts. “I would feel comfortable saying that the number of green jobs will be in the millions,” he said. “Just how many millions, I don’t know.”
It will be years, however, before that potential is realized. One of the main problems is the mass of rules and regulations that make building plants a lengthy process.
Imperial County in southern California has hit on a novel way to get around red tape, using a provision of state law that allows local authorities to streamline the approval process for building a plant, as long as it is under 50 megawatts.
This loophole enables officials to handle the approval process in as little as a year, compared to several years at the state level.
“Getting anything done in California is hard,” said Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation CEO Tim Kelley, at his office in El Centro some 100 miles (160 km) east of San Diego. “But it is less hard to get it done here.”
This area has 360 days of sun a year and has suitable geological conditions for geothermal power — there are 10 such plants already. Thirty others for solar, geothermal and wind facilities, are in the process of acquiring permits.
Red tape is not the only challenge.
Paul Rich is Chief Development Officer at Deepwater Wind LLC, which aims to develop America’s first offshore wind farm, in Rhode Island. The farm, which would eventually provide 15 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity, should come in two phases. The first test phase with six to eight turbines could be installed off the coast by 2012. By around 2015 the wind farm would contain around 100 wind turbines.
Rich described the coast between Maine and Maryland as the “Saudi Arabia of wind,” predicting an “enormous, exponential leap in jobs, manufacturing and infrastructure.”
Part of the reason for the long lead time is the need for extensive tests of local wind conditions, he said.
“It won’t happen overnight,” Rich said. “We are trying to create a truly new industry here and it has to be done right.”
“A far bigger concern for us is finding a qualified workforce to run and maintain the wind farm when it becomes operational.”
In blighted states like Michigan, many former manufacturing workers are already training for green jobs, even though relatively few have been created.
Matthew Derra, 41, lost his job at struggling auto supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc <AXL.N> in July 2008. Now he is taking an associate degree in renewable energy and wants to find a job maintaining wind turbines.
“There’s nothing out there in my old field of work,” he said. “And there will be thousands of people out there chasing every green job, but I have to try.”
“I can’t just sit home and watch television.”
Even in California, which has America’s most aggressive climate change regulations, just 159,000 of the state’s 18 million jobs are considered “green” as of the start of 2008, according to public policy group Next 10.
Still, there are encouraging signs that money is flowing into renewable energy even in a sluggish economy.
Bill Gibson, is a business broker and principal of Gibson & Associates Inc in Pensacola, Florida. Gibson finds buyers for companies that want to sell.
He noted that companies selling luxury items are having trouble finding buyers because gun-shy banks won’t lend for that kind of investment, but he has noticed a lot more interest in renewable or alternative energy firms.
“There are definitely going to be haves and have-nots,” Gibson said. “Green energy is part of the future.”
The green energy industry is also seen as an opportunity for manufacturing firms to retool.
“What concerns me is when I hear people talking about manufacturing in the past tense,” said Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing. “If we want wind turbines, someone here should manufacture them.”

GEEKS AT THE TABLE
Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, keeps a board covered in bad news — headlines from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Economist about how badly the economy of the state has been faring. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was 12.7 percent in November, the second highest in the country after Michigan.
“Our problems have made not just national but international headlines,” White said. “That motivates me to find a new way forward.”
Rhode Island is pinning its hopes on a strategy dubbed “Strengthening Providence’s Knowledge Economy.” It has involved bringing together local and state government, the Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) and hundreds of small hi-tech software companies.
“The geeks have finally been offered a seat at the table,” said business consultant Jack Templin.
White said there was an easy explanation: “The geeks are just about the only ones creating jobs right now.”
Companies like Working Planet, which handles algorithmic online market research for its clients, are now at the table.
“Up until a few years ago the chamber was focused on major companies and its existing membership base,” said Working Planet Marketing Group Inc president and co-founder Soren Ryherd. “Over the past three years the chamber has done an about face and is now also about the smaller companies that are creating jobs.”
“We have also become more organized because we need to reach the local universities so we can find and retain top talent,” he added.
Mike Saul is the interim executive director of the RIEDC and has spent much of his career as a “turnaround guy” taking poorly performing companies and making them thrive. He wants to do the same here, in part because three of his four children, like many of the state’s offspring, live outside Rhode Island because there was no work here for them.
“In any turnaround that is going to work you have to ask where is the enterprise value that I can push forward,” he said. According to Saul, the state’s education system and its wind potential create much of its enterprise value.
“Rhode Island’s attempts at economic development have been episodic in the past, but this time everyone is on the same page,” Saul said. “A crisis makes things happen. It helps individuals reinvent themselves and will help this country reinvent itself.”

COMMENT

I read one comment saying that their 2 children on graduation will have $100K in education debts.
Here in Sweden we can study right thru university completely free of charge, and even get a very generous monthly allowance to help with books and food etc etc

Posted by George | Report as abusive

Imperial Valley strives to be small-scale renewable energy capital

Nov 5, 2009 15:49 UTC

EL CENTRO, California – At a time when alternative energy and “green jobs” have become a significant talking point under the administration of Barack Obama, Imperial Valley is pushing to make it a reality.

The Valley –- which locals in this part of southern California also call Imperial County — already has 10 geothermal plants in operation with a combined capacity of around 330 megawatts. Geothermal energy,  extracting power from underground heat, is a constant and sustainable form of generating electricity.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for the Imperial Valley,” which has a high unemployment rate, said Mark Gran, vice president of community relations at CalEnergy. “We’re going to be the renewable energy capital of the world.”

Potential geothermal or other renewable energy projects need to go through a lengthy approval process. But Imperial County officials have streamlined that process to help companies get permits far quicker, in particular for power plants under 50 megawatts. The state of California has more say in larger projects and has a reputation for being a stickler for due process.

“Getting anything done in California is hard,” said Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation CEO Tim Kelley. “But it is less hard to get it done here.”

Apart from 360 days of sun a year and suitable geological conditions for geothermal power, the state has mandated that 33 percent of its electricity must come from renewable sources by 2020. Kelley says  companies are falling over themselves to come to Imperial County, where they know the will be welcome.

Some 30 other renewable energy projects — geothermal, solar and wind — are in the permitting process in Imperial County. One geothermal plant has just been built and construction of another will begin next year.

“We have found the optimal way through the process,” said El Centro city manager Ruben Duran. “We recommend to companies that if they want to get approval faster they follow that path. They don’t have to follow those recommendations, but we’ve found that the system works.”

Local officials hope that renewable energy will help lower rising unemployment and help diversify the economy of this rural, largely agricultural community. But one problem Imperial County faces is transmission – getting the power to customers in major markets like San Diego, around 100 miles to the west on the Pacific coast.

“It’s one thing to produce the power, but we need to be able to deliver it to customers,” Kelly said.

The existing infrastructure can handle all of the capacity that the 30 projects currently in the pipeline would require, but not much more.

“Transmission moving forward is going to be a big concern,” Duran said.

Sue Giller, a partner at Valley Solutions Group Inc, which handles public relations for some companies in the area, including one that just opened, said far more needs to be done by California and around the United States to make renewable energy as much of a priority as it is in other countries.

“It’s amazing to me that although Germany doesn’t get much sun that the Germans lead the world in solar technology,” she said. “Something needs to be done to change that.”

For more Route to Recovery stories, click here

(Picture: President Barack Obama speaks about new energy in front of solar panels at the Thunderbirds Hangar at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada May 27, 2009.  REUTERS/Jason Reed)

COMMENT

I like this “Amtrak- road to recovery” feature. It is a clever, useful and integral way for Amtrak to get the word out about its services while providing useful news and interesting stories. I wish Verizon and its ilk were that clever and willing to participate in a more up-to-date pluralistic fashion.

Strains of downturn lead to rising domestic abuse

Nov 4, 2009 21:24 UTC

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EL CENTRO, California – During tough economic times in California’s Imperial Valley the staff members at the Center for Family Solutions, dedicated to helping domestic violence victims, have as much work as they can handle.

The center is struggling to deal with a rising number of domestic abuse cases and trying to help women – and occasionally men – escape from violent partners. Lgal services director Judith Klein-Pritchard said the surge was a direct result of rising unemployment in the area and the long recession that has battered the U.S. economy.

“Abusive people are often abusive by nature, but there has to be a trigger for them to become violent,” she said. “Perhaps it’s the tension of joblessness that triggers abusive behavior because all of a sudden they don’t know how to control themselves.”

Melinda Opperman, vice president at Springboard, a nonprofit counseling group that helps homeowners avoid foreclosure in Riverside, California – to the north of El Centro and one of hardest hit areas in the country by the housing crisis – said that there was anecdotal evidence that domestic abuse was on the rise in the area.

“We are hearing of children coming into school with bruises,” she said. “The downturn has placed a lot of strain on families.”

Mary Merrill Gutierrez (below), a volunteer who got out of her abusive marriage in 2004 with help from the center, recalled how money was a trigger for her ex-husband to become violent and said that joblessness and a lack of money were leading more men to abuse their wives and children.

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“There are so many women now that are learning the depth of their husbands because there is no money coming in,” she said. “And so now a man who normally isn’t violent may become so.”

“A man who has worked his whole life and has always been working for 45, 60 hours a week is home sitting on the couch and basically feeling worthless is going to eventually strike out, verbally, emotionally, physically,” she added. “I’ve heard women who have been married 25 yrs to a wonderful man and a year after he has lost his job they’re here.”

Klein-Pritchard said the center has also been affected by the downturn, as budget constraints in the state of California have meant a 50 percent decrease in funding. The center’s staff has been cut to two from five while the number of people who need help keeps going up.

The center’s shelter for abused women is full and has been for much of the past three to six months and is issuing double the number of restraining orders that it was before the recession – eight a day now compared to four before.

“We find ourselves having to prioritize and trying to work out whether a woman’s life is endangered,” she said. “Everyone needs our help, but we have to start with the most urgent cases first.”

Photos by Lucy Nicholson

More Route to Recovery coverage:

COMMENT

It is too bad there is not an automatic counseling mechanism resource as part of unemployment benefits to help families obtain the expensive counseling that can probably serve as pro-active preventitive maintenance in avoidance of the related increases in domestic violence corresponding with increased pressures of high-unemployment.

My marriage did not survive my financial collapse after unemployment but I’m happy that my positive relationship with my ex-wife and daughter did. It wasn’t easy and there was no fault. I let go of everything I had built and made sure I provided the best I could for my daughter on the long way down. Though the ex still divorced me, I think my ex-wife respected that I selflessly bit the bullet everytime I had to.

Unemployed men have to be prepared for any weakness in their relationship to become increased under financial distress and the best thing men can do, is be the first to seek counseling to cope with loss. Not every man seeking to cope with employment and financial loss will be able to salvage their marriage but seeking counseling will help them to cope with the many changes to their relationships and social status.

It takes a lot out of a man to go from a being a successful employed person, to the often times degrading governmental processes, and there really is no bottom.

So it is very important for unemployed men to keep in perspective the importance of their family.

Every couple confronted with adversity deals with it differently and men get plenty of blame when an important job, money and status are lost.

You can’t always expect a marriage to survive this.

But don’t let the hopelessness and helplessness turn into anger that destroys the things you truly love.

Staying strong means keeping your cool under fire.

Don’t ever let a job loss come between you and your child. A good parent is a good parent, for richer or for poorer, wife or no. You might have to go from a position of power to stacking wood and cleaning toilets but it makes you more of a man when you do it without blaming those you love.

Accept the relationship changes job loss brings and build your base for a comeback.

It’s not your fault and it is also not theirs.

Do your best.

Crossing the border loses some of its allure

Nov 4, 2009 17:06 UTC

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CALEXICO, California – The American Dream’s promise of prosperity for hard work has long drawn illegal immigrants, but that pull appears to have faded during the long, deep U.S. recession.

The number of people apprehended while attempting to illegally cross the U.S. border from Mexico fell to 800,000 in 2008, down more than half from an all-time high of 1.8 million in 2000.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, attributes the decline to increased manpower, surveillance cameras, sensors and fences along the 2,000 mile border the country shares with Mexico.

“It’s a question of deterrence,” said Adrian Corona, a supervisory patrol agent standing beneath a camera-topped tower just over a mile from the Mexican border. “We’ve caught people who pay up to $3,000 to smugglers to get them across the border. When they see and hear about the operations we have in place here, they think twice about attempting it.”

But James Smith, senior economist at the Rand Corporation, said that the downturn in the United States had undoubtedly played a role.

“It’s clear that one of the characteristics of the labor market for undocumented workers is that it is extremely flexible,” he said. “It comes when it’s needed and stays away when it’s not.”

“If there is less for illegal immigrants, then it is easier for them to stay in a lower cost environment like Mexico,” he added.

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The total number of Mexican-born people in the United States has not changed much through the boom and bust, according to a July report from the Pew Hispanic Institute, holding steady at about 11.5 million.

Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said increased security may have persuaded many illegal immigrants to stay in America rather than risk going home.

“But when it comes to the fall in people trying to enter the country, it would not surprise me if the largest factor was the economy,” he said. “It’s almost entirely responsible for the slowdown in illegal immigration.”

Even in November It is scorching hot in the desert outside Calexico, but summer temperatures can be lethal, making the crossing dangerous for both illegal immigrants and the border agents who pursue them. There are 1,100 agents in this sector that covers around 70 miles of the U.S.-Mexican border. Apprehensions this year are down about 18 percent.

“It’s tough work, but the extra technology we have in place has made my job a lot easier,” Corona said.

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Billy Whitford, U.S. Customs and Border Protection port director at the border crossing in Calexico, said that illegal immigrants still try to make it past his agents “on a daily basis” using false documents and that many of them were headed far from the border.

“A lot of the people who come through here illegally are heading for big markets like Los Angeles to find work,” he said.

Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Kelly Ivahnenko also attributed the falling numbers to improved security measures and increased agent numbers.

“Our job is to prevent people crossing the border illegally, not to speculate on whether the economy is playing any role,” she said.

COMMENT

Nick:

HURRY HOME< WE NEED YOU!

Jack

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Water rights make El Centro an oasis

Nov 4, 2009 14:25 UTC

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If you head east to El Centro from San Diego, Interstate 8 takes you through arid scenery, climbing to 4,000 feet through barren mountains so fast that your ears pop. Then comes the oasis.

As you head down rapidly out of the mountains once more toward El Centro you hit a sign that tells you that you have reached sea level. Green fields and palm trees, stacks of hay drying in the fierce sun — 90 degrees Fahrenheit even in November — surrounded on all sides by rocky hills and the desert.

We knew before coming here that this was an agricultural region, but the lush greenery amid such a scorched landscape took us by surprise. This is where much of America’s lettuce, spinach and other vegetables come from in the winter. There are also large cattle feed lots here too, which launch a frontal assault on your olfactory system long before you see them.

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But you don’t have to wander far from the fields to find the desert and its fine reddish, beige sand and realise just how incongruous the lush green fields are. Particularly when you feel the sun beating down on you when much of the northern hemisphere is already feeling the first cold of winter.

This is all made possible by water rights this area has from the Colorado River. As this part of the desert is below sea level in some parts, the water flows downhill and an irrigation system delivers it to 500,000 acres of farmland.

Without this water the fields would no doubt revert to desert in short order.

Some 97 percent of the water diverted to the area around El Centro goes toward farming and city manager Ruben Duran says the city is looking at ways to conserve water in a place where “mild dehydration is a natural state for most people.”

But while people here talk in terms of conservation and wise use of water, they can also remind you that water rights in El Centro and Imperial County have been upheld twice by the Supreme Court and that no one can take them away.

“Water is always a concern,” said Tim Kelley, head of the Imperial Valley Development Corporation, a public private partnership set up to diversify the local economy. “But those water rights belong to us. And if you don’t like it, you can take us to court.”

Photos by Lucy Nicholson

Beginning at El Centro

Nov 2, 2009 19:39 UTC

MEXICO

When planning for a trip across America that would both take in a broad swath of territory and also highlight some of the worst and best spots in the U.S. economy today, El Centro in southern California was a no-brainer.

Not only is El Centro located in one of the states worst affected by the housing crisis and the recession – California faces a major fiscal crisis and was reduced earlier this year to paying its bills with IOUs – but it is in Imperial County, which has the country’s highest unemployment rate.

As of September, the jobless rate in this county down by the Mexican border stood at 30.1 percent. Even taking into account the fact that much of the workforce here is seasonally employed in the agricultural sector, that is an astounding number.

We’re here to find out what else has driven this county’s unemployment rate to such crazy levels and see what impact this has had on the local people. With the Mexican border just a stone’s throw away and illegal immigration such a contentious issue in American national politics, we also want to swing by the local state border patrol and get their take on falling immigration numbers.

One question for them and for the locals on our travels hereabouts: has “El Norte” lost any of its appeal amid the downturn?

COMMENT

At least you can get good huevos rancheros and chile rellanos in El Centro while you see Cher’s birthplace.
But, Imperial Cty, which is in the Desert therefore dependent on irrigation water drawn from the Colorrado River, has had to “give” much of it’s Colorado water allocation to San Diego Cty, which is on the Pacific. This has forced many farms in the Nation’s “Salad Bowl” to go fallow (stop planting). And, cost factors and explosive golf course growth in the Desert have caused the grape growers and others to “off-shore” their farming operations into Baja California Norte (Mexico). Where they’re getting the water is a guess because We (the US) have stolen Mexico’s Colorado River water allocation ‘fair n’ square’.
What’s in your mouth, America?
I’ll take “illegal immigration”, thank you very much.

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