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So, what about Martinsville? The southern Virginia (former) textile town (see map above) has an unemployment rate of over 20 percent now, the highest in the state. It is not that different from other rural towns down through the Piedmont through North and South Carolina. Martinsville got a lot of attention during the last presidential campaign, which hasn’t seemed to help much during this recession, according to the Washington Post’s Fredrick Kunkle. “What remains unclear to residents of Martinsville and similar textile towns across the industrial South is whether there is much of anything the politicians can do after the campaigns have passed by,” Kunkle wrote. “Even President Obama, who toured Patrick Henry Community College’s innovative motor sports training program in the fall with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine at his side, has not produced a prescription for the town’s troubles.”
Kunkle tells the story of how southern cities lured New England textile mills early last century with cheap labor and low taxes — and how now the South is losing these factories to lower priced countries elsewhere. The state has tried to recruit companies, and has been successful at times. But mostly nothing has happened.
“It would help, several officials said, if politicians stopped trying to recreate the Martinsville of yore,” Kunkle wrote. “I think people realize now we can’t duplicate what the last hundred years was like,” said Allyson K. Rothrock, executive director of the Harvest Foundation in Martinsville. “I really look at this as an opportunity for rebirth.”