It hit me today as I was wandering through a small town in southern Minnesota. With the clarity of a cloudless day I understood the economic reality of the Midwest.
Since I moved here three years ago (35 months ago, to be exact) I have been struck by the vast number of American cars that populate the roads. Being from metropolitan California, I was used to seeing mostly foreign cars—Toyotas, Hondas, VWs, BMWs and the like. Noticing the majority of drivers behind the wheels of Chevys, Fords, Pontiacs and Chryslers made me wonder a) if Midwesterners were aware that American cars were inferior and b) if they knew American cars were inferior did they just buy them to support the American auto industry. It also made me wonder if they would sneer at me driving my Toyota (imported from Oakland, Calif.). I watched “Roger & Me.” I knew the history. But it still seemed so backward knowing that most American cars were so inferior.
As time passed I did much less wondering about this topic, as others became more pressing—like what do those tornado sirens mean anyway, or what will happen if I go outside when the windchill is -30?.
But the recent catastrophes of The Big Three recirculated this topic into my consciousness.
Back to this small Minnesota town. Lake Crystal, population 2,502 (the 2 being my two friends who just moved there two weeks ago). Not a foreign car in sight. Except for mine, and my friend’s—also a Toyota. And that’s when it hit me: the powerful importance of buying local.
Midwesterners are keenly aware, so much more so than their West Coast counterparts, how much the economy depends on the American auto industry. The people who live here work for them. In some way, shape or form, the Midwest is tied to General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler. I recently heard a statistic that every GM job directly or indirectly supports three other jobs. So a loss of 10,000 GM jobs would result in the loss of 30,000 jobs.
So what if the American auto industry had been supported by the West Coasters and the East Coasters and the Southerners with as much enthusiasm as the Midwesterners? Would the companies’ profits be large enough to offset plant closures, outsourcing jobs overseas, a federal bailout? It’s tough to say. Especially when their product has been inferior for so many years. Seems like a flawed business plan to me. But we, the taxpayers and unemployed, are the ones to ultimately suffer the consequences.
In California there is a great push to buy locally grown produce. Farmers’ markets are numerous and well attended, as well as well stocked with locally grown fruits and vegetables, and local crafts and eats. There is an awareness that supporting local farmers through these markets directly effects the California economy. It is not so unlike the mentality of the Midwestern affinity for the American car, though it is on a much smaller scale.
Yet, while the local produce market is expanding and gaining popularity in California, the local auto market is shrinking and plummeting into bankruptcy. Buying local is important. But when an industry becomes so massive it loses touch with its customers, loses its ability to innovate and compete do we continue to support it just because it is local? Or do we cut our losses and move on?
It seems the American auto industry should have held its own farmer’s market long ago, bringing its goods and pleasantries to its customer base, a touch back so to speak. It’s sad to think that the failure of these behemoth companies will have a trickle-down effect on places like Lake Crystal, MN that don’t appear sturdy enough to weather the changing landscape of industrial America. We can only brace ourselves and hope to withstand the coming storm.