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There is nothing less glamorous than a warehouse. Warehouses are like the opposite of eye candy (eye spam?). But, if it’s true that “you never miss a good thing till it’s gone,” perhaps we should visit Medora.
Medora is like many small towns throughout our country. It looks a lot like the town where I spent four years in college. This small rustbelt town, located just ninety minutes south of Indianapolis, is low on hope. With under 1,000 residents and the worst high school basketball team in the state of Indiana, Medora is a sad place. It’s storefronts stand empty. It’s houses look dilapidated. Neighboring communities know Medora for its challenges with meth addictions and fatherlessness.

“Medora is in the gutter, some say, with everything going on. People losing their jobs. It’s hard,” said Chaz Cowles, a teenager who has already served a sentence in the juvenile penitentiary.

Filmmakers Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart profiled the small town in their new documentary that shares the town’s name. The film focuses on Medora’s winless basketball team, but basketball is just a lens. Through it, we can see the fate of many small towns across the country. Among other woes, unemployment hampers Medora most. But it hasn’t always looked that way.

“When I was a child growing up, your parents either worked at the plastic factory or the brick plant,” shared an older Medora resident. “Now, we have neither one. Now, there’s no employment to amount to anything here in town. None.”

Medora’s high school is on the brink of collapse. The population has steadily decreased as poverty has increased. But the struggles this Indiana community faces are not unique to small towns in America’s Midwest. Why? What caused Medora’s steady decline over the past few decades? On a much larger level, we can see an amplified version of these problems in Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Medora, Indiana (picture from official web site of the documentary,

Medora, Indiana (picture from official web site of the documentary,

The thrust of coverage about Detroit has focused on the failures of the municipal government. Corruption and failed governance played a role, of course, but have we missed the main culprit? Joseph Sunde and I recently penned an essay on Detroit’s bankruptcy in The City. In the article, our central question was this:

Would we be discussing Detroit’s current governance malaise if Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors—“Detroit’s Big Three”—still kept the city’s workers employed?

The reasons Medora’s plastic factory and Detroit’s auto plants have moved are complex. Many suggest “Buy USA” schemes to fight off American factories moving to China, India and elsewhere. For reasons I’ll save for a future essay, I disagree with that prescription.
What I’ll say is this: Hug your local factory.
Across our country, millions enter the doors of warehouses like my friends’ metal fabrication facility and home improvement depot in Denver. In many cities, including mine, warehouses continue to thrive. In these places, workers find labor to put their hand to, wages to feed their families, and a community of coworkers who know them.
In small towns, big cities and everywhere in between, nondescript warehouses keep communities alive. They don’t seem all that significant, but as Medora illustrates, they are. These plants make our cities work. When they’re gone, things collapse. We should reframe their importance, not as necessary evils, but as irreplaceable cornerstones of healthy societies.