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Rust Belt Resistance

How a Small Community Took on Big Oil and Won

By Perry Bush

Publication Year: 2012

Corporate power and community resistance in the era of globalizationSince the 1970s, urban communities across the country have had to face the wrenching process of economic restructuring. As the media announce the latest plant closings and politicians slam each other for outsourcing jobs, events are too often framed with a kind of economic determinism that denies agency to individual communities. To what degree can industrial cities in such an era still imagine themselves as authors of their own economic fates?

In Rust Belt Resistance, author Perry Bush explores this question by focusing on the small midwestern city of Lima, Ohio. When British Petroleum (BP) announced late in 1996 that it would close and demolish its refinery there—which at the time employed 500 people with a $31.5 million payroll—economic desperation loomed. Lima’s story, however, deviated from the usual sad narrative of other Midwest plant closures and began to assume a drama of its own.

Led by an unlikely cast of characters—an uncommonly stubborn set of civic leaders, a conservative local newspaper publisher, and the city’s determined and progressive mayor—Lima refused to take its place quietly on the industrial scrap heap. Instead of collapsing in despair, the refinery’s workers continued to function as a model of industrial efficiency and hard work, partly in a determined effort to build profitability and preserve their jobs and also because hard work was the essence and tradition of this bluecollar town.

In a story replete with a number of dramatic twists and turns, Bush describes how this collection of individuals led a resistant multinational corporation to a financial deal it could not refuse, located an acceptable buyer for the refinery, and saved not only a sizable share of the city’s financial foundation but also the community’s identity and selfrespect. Rust Belt Resistance is a valuable instructional lesson for business and community leaders, scholars, and anyone interested in the continuing viability of American industrial cities.

Published by: The Kent State University Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. 8-9

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

This book took shape over a productive period of sabbatical release time, together with more summers of research and writing than I care to remember. In the process I have become deeply indebted, intellectually and otherwise, to several friends and ...

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Chapter 1“Local CommunitiesAre No Match forIndustrial Corporations”

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pp. 1-10

Lima, the county seat of Allen County, is a weathered industrial city of about forty thousand people, set against the flat and prosperous farmlands of northwest Ohio. It still possesses a certain charm. Local people can boast of a set of nearly new schools, a few grand old boulevards ...

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Chapter 2 Oil Town

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pp. 11-36

In May 1885, after weeks of drilling, oil came shooting upward out of a hole along a riverbank in downtown Lima. By all accounts, the oil was nasty stuff. Black, greasy, and smelling strongly of sulfur, it turned the dust of the drill site into a sticky ...

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Chapter 3 Rust Belt

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pp. 37-72

Late in 1965, the members of Lima’s city council decided the city needed its own official flag and solicited possible designs through a citywide contest. The winning entry came from Shirley Barr of Lakewood Avenue. In return for $100 prize money and a brief moment of local fame, Mrs. Barr offered her city a white flag with red ...

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Chapter 4 Resistance

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pp. 73-100

David Berger arrived in Lima in the summer of 1977 for what he thought would be a two-year break before resuming final studies for a career as a Catholic priest. He had come to town as executive director of the Rehab Project—a heady title for a twenty-two-year-old philosophy ...

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Chapter 5 Scorched Earth

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pp. 101-142

In 1996, two parallel but fundamentally incompatible trajectories collided at the Lima refinery. One of them emanated from the agenda of its owners, the corporate executives of British Petroleum. As seen from BP headquarters in London, or through the eyes of American ...

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Chapter 6 “It Was Like a Death—to the Town”

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pp. 143-166

In the nineteen years from 1963 to 1982, America saw the closing of a hundred thousand manufacturing plants, resulting in about twenty-two million lost jobs. Like newspaper accounts of mass famines or war refugees, such statistics are so overwhelming as to be numbing. Lost, too, in the cumulative statistics is something ...

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Chapter 7 “Whether We’re for BPor against BP,We All Sound Conspiratorial”

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pp. 167-207

Throughout their long struggle to save the Lima refinery, Mayor Berger and his comrades on the task force never seemed to raise their heads above the immediate crisis and take an honest look at the odds they faced. If they had done so, they might have realized, as any number ...

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Chapter 8 Victory

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pp. 208-240

While traveling for BP in Japan in January 1998, Gary Greve placed repeated phone calls one day to Dave Berger’s office back in Lima. The mayor’s secretary passed on the message: Greve needed to reach Berger urgently. When Berger finally caught up with the BP executive late ...

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Epilogue“Nobody Was Defending UsExcept Ourselves”

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pp. 241-250

In the happy glow that immediately followed his company’s profitable sale of the Lima refinery to Clark Oil, BP senior executive Ian Conn ventured to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the sale certainly seemed “the correct final chapter” to the story. Conn may have been an ...

Notes

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pp. 251-286

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 287-292

Index

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pp. 293-299


E-ISBN-13: 9781612776477
E-ISBN-10: 1612776477
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606351178

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Lima (Ohio) -- Economic policy -- Decision making.
  • Petroleum -- Refining -- Ohio -- Lima.
  • British Petroleum Company.
  • Corporate power -- Ohio -- Lima.
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