Friday, September 01, 2023

Auto industry moves South with electric vehicle factories; one rural town of 400 gets ready for 6,000 Ford workers

Business has picked up at Suga’s Diner in Stanton, Tenn.
(Photo by Andrea Morales, The Wall Street Journal)
How does a town of 400 people prepare for an influx of 6,000 additional residents? Stanton, Tennessee, is showing the way as the town readies for “all the people the Ford plant auto-complex build will bring,” reports Nora Eckert of The Wall Street Journal. Ford’s complex is a sign of the times: “The U.S. auto industry is accelerating its move south as car companies pour billions of dollars into new factories in Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The shift is creating pockets of frenzied activity—and anxiety—for rural, southern towns bracing for new workers and residents.”

“Once fully operational, Ford’s 3,600-acre site is expected to employ about 6,000 workers, about 15 times Stanton’s current population,” Eckert writes. “Allan Sterbinsky, the mayor of Stanton, spends his days planning how the town—home to a barbecue restaurant, a Dollar General and a couple of cemeteries—will build thousands of new homes, expand the local school system and potentially establish a police force.” Sterbinsky told Eckert, “It’s tremendously overwhelming, just everything that has to be done.”

As America's shift to EVs gained momentum, the auto industry’s move South increased speed. “Auto companies have announced more than $110 billion in EV-related investments in the U.S. since 2018, with about half that sum destined for Southern states, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit based in Ann Arbor, Michigan," Eckert adds. "Automakers are now rushing to construct assembly plants and battery-making facilities—some sitting on sites the size of 60 football fields.”

Location of Stanton in Haywood County,
Tennessee. (Wikipedia map)
For decades, Southern states have been setting the groundwork to attract automakers, “laying veins of waterways and electrical lines and shoveling heaps of dirt to prepare the land for potential new factory megasites," Eckert reports. "Local governments and technical institutes have partnered to train a new generation of manufacturing workers, including in automotive, even before some of the first construction beams were erected. "Ford Chief Jim Farley said one of the reasons the automaker based its manufacturing campus in Tennessee is because the Tennessee Valley Authority, an electricity company, is one of the largest clean-energy providers in the U.S. The state’s lower energy costs also attracted Ford there, he has said."

Meanwhile, folks in Stanton and surrounding towns of Haywood County, pop. 17,900, have their hands full. "The median household income in Haywood County, where the Ford complex is located, is about $40,000. One in five residents live in poverty," Eckert reports. Already some local restaurants and services are enjoying growth, but for some, Ford's presence has hurt their business. "Teknor Apex, a chemical producer and major employer in the county, was already struggling to find workers. . . . Many young people in the area end up leaving for better pay and a greater variety of opportunities elsewhere, draining the local talent pool."

Over-the-counter Narcan on shelves next week; overdose reversal spray may cost too much for many who need it

Photo by NEXT Distro, Unsplash
Over-the-counter naloxone nasal spray, or Narcan, will hit drugstore shelves next week. The lifesaving spray reverses opioid overdoses but used to require a prescription. “Big-box outlets like Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Rite Aid said they expected Narcan to be available online and on many store shelves early next week,” report Jan Hoffman and Noah Weiland of The New York Times. “Narcan is already a staple for emergency personnel and street outreach teams. Now scientists and health officials hope Narcan will eventually become commonplace in public libraries, subways, dorms, corner delis and street vending machines.”

Walgreens announced that it will sell a two-pack of Narcan for $44.99, and the spray qualifies as a medical expense for health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts, according to the Flex Spending Store. But at $45 for two doses, the treatment may be out of reach for some that need it the most. “When Narcan was available only by prescription, public and private insurance readily covered it. But those plans typically restrict coverage of over-the-counter drugs,” the Times reports. “Some state Medicaid programs have already announced that they will cover Narcan when it becomes available over the counter. Those states include Missouri, California, Massachusetts, Washington, Rhode Island and Oregon.”

Where retailers display Narcan, such as behind the counter, could also prevent people from picking it up. “Behavioral health experts say that customers may be reluctant to ask store workers for Narcan, fearing raised eyebrows and dismissive comments—marks of the pervasive stigma surrounding drug use and addiction,” Hoffman and Weiland explain. “Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart and CVS also said that Narcan could be purchased next week through their online sites, offering greater privacy.” Brendan Saloner, an addiction policy expert at Johns Hopkins, told the Times: “Stigma will always be there, but I think there’s been a sea change in how the public perceives naloxone over the last decade, and many more people are willing to carry it.”

Narcan won’t be the only company in the overdose reversal OTC field; the drug’s price will likely fall with market competition and some insurance companies may offer coverage. The Times reports, “CVS is encouraging customers to ask for Narcan at the pharmacy counter ‘so our pharmacy teams can check a patient’s insurance plan for potential savings on prescription naloxone products,’ a spokesman said. . . . Earlier this summer, the Food and Drug Administration gave over-the-counter approval to RiVive, a naloxone spray expected in early 2024. RiVive, manufactured by Harm Reduction Therapeutics, is intended as a low-cost product largely for outreach groups."

Kentucky regulators reject cryptomining proposal; the state isn't the only one to grapple with crypto's rush to rural

Bitcoin is not a precious metal, nor is it used as currency.
(Photo by Pierre Bothiry, Unsplash)

Kentucky Public Service Commission
utility regulators rejected Kentucky Power's controversial deal to "give millions in energy price discounts to a planned cryptomining facility in Louisa, Kentucky," a Mountain Association press release says. "Today’s decision comes at a time when Kentucky Power has proposed a whopping 18% increase in rates for families and individuals." Regulators feared that the company would have to buy so much power from other sources that it would drive up rates for all consumers, many if not most of them rural – in one of the nation's poorest areas.

Here is a more in-depth primer about bitcoin/crypto mining, but essentially, shoe box-sized computers "earn" bitcoin by being the first to find the correct answer to complex calculations aimed at preventing counterfeiting and stealing. But all that "mining" computation, and the massive fans needed to keep computers from overheating, is noisy and sucks up huge amounts of electricity.

Louisa is in Lawrence County,
Kentucky. (Wikipedia)
Chinese bitcoin companies fled to the United States seeking land and cheap electricity after China cracked down on its cryptomining in 2021. Ebon International, a Chinese-owned cryptomining company, proposed a $250 million computing complex on land leased from Kentucky Power at the Big Sandy Generating Station in Lawrence County. "Kentucky Power and Ebon executed a contract last August for the utility to provide up to 250 megawatts of power at a discounted rate subject to commission approval," reports Ryan Van Velzer of Louisville Public Radio. "In return, Kentucky Power said that Ebon would create as many as 100 jobs in an otherwise economically challenged part of the state."

"Commissioners quashed the deal, saying the risks outweigh the potential economic benefits," Van Velzer explains. "Among those risks, the commission said Kentucky Power will lack the power to meet its existing customers’ demand beginning in 2026, let alone the new crypto facility, based on the utility’s future plans. . . . 'Kentucky Power’s lack of capacity that can produce energy creates the risk that energy prices rise in the footprint, and as a net purchaser of energy, the power bills of all customers will go up,' the commission wrote in its order."

Investing in cryptominig is considered risky, but "advocates argue putting these facilities on former coal mines gives the land a second life, while also plugging crypto companies directly into the utilities to give them the vast amount of power they need," Van Velzer reports. "Opponents say there’s not much to keep companies around once the discounts expire because they could pick up their servers and relocate."

Kentucky isn't the only state targeted by cryptomining companies. Nebraska has the ninth lowest electricity prices in the country, reports Natalia Alamdari of Flatwater Free Press. A crypto mining company built its 11-acre facility on the outskirts of Kearney, Nebraska: "Here sits dozens of what look like shipping containers. . .wedged between a solar field and a corn field, the thousands of computers mine for cryptocurrency. Together, they use as much electricity as the entire city of Kearney, pop. 33,790, to do it. . . . It’s also likely the first of many such centers to set up shop in the state, as the still new and oft-volatile crypto industry carves out a home in rural America."

Growing Amish populations have led to more risks of buggy-vehicle accidents; some states are adding 'buggy lanes'

Horses drink from water troughs outside a Walmart in Tennessee.
(Photo by Lonnie Lee Hood, The Daily Yonder)
A growing Amish population has prompted some states to add “buggy lanes” to prevent accidents between horse-drawn carriages and motorized vehicles. “Amish communities are among the fastest-growing population groups in the United States, and their use of horse and buggies has created an infrastructure problem in some rural areas, reports Lonnie Lee Hood for The Daily Yonder. “Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, is one example where the Tennessee Department of Transportation constructed a buggy lane exclusively for Amish use following a number of buggy-related accidents and ongoing safety issues.”

“Tennessee isn’t the only state doing this, either. In 2020, the Geauga County Maple Leaf reported that the Ohio Department of Transportation launched an $11.8 million safety initiative for 2021 and 2022 that included funding for buggy lanes. In 2022, the Ashland Source reported that State Route 545 in Ashland County, Ohio, would also receive a $5 million buggy lane,” Hood writes. “According to a 2022 Amish population profile published by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, the estimated population of the Amish community in North America in June 2022, was 373,620, an increase of about 12,150 since 2021. More than 62% of that population lives in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, but there are communities outside those states — like the one in Lawrenceburg.”

Hood reports, “Dr. Alan Shuldiner, co-director of the University of Maryland Clinical and Translational Research Institute, says that because large families are culturally valued, Amish birth rates have always been high. It’s not uncommon for couples to have seven or eight children. And while his research does not focus on transportation issues, he says there’s no doubt that buggy-driving Amish communities run the risk of vehicular accidents.” 

According to Hood, “Drivers in Lawrence County have differing opinions on the buggy lane, although most support and appreciate their Amish neighbors. . . . Myranda Thornton, a county resident who drives in Lawrenceburg daily, said she’s seen many near-accidents due to inattentive drivers and thinks the money is well-spent if it will increase safety measures.” County Executive David Morgan told Hood: “The buggy lane is designed to protect our Amish residents as they travel along Lawrence County’s busiest highway, and I’m so happy to see it almost complete. We all know when a wreck involves an Amish buggy, the people in that buggy, and their horse, are very likely to receive severe injuries.”

Thursday, August 31, 2023

News-media roundup: Family owners cry foul as Alden firm buys Scranton-area papers; Gulban buys Delphos group

MediaNews Group, owned by Alden Global Capital, has bought four newspapers in and around Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the family owners of the paper, minority stockholders, don't like it. Times-Shamrock Communications is selling the Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre, The Republican Herald in Pottsville, The Standard-Speaker in Hazleton, and several less-than-daily papers and pressrooms. The sale does not include the firm's radio or billboard operations, or its building. "The family that started Times-Shamrock—the Lynetts—have been producing newspapers since 1895 in Scranton," WNEP reports, along with a blistering statement from family members:

". . . Alden does not reflect the business principles we feel are consistent with the stewardship of any newspaper. The sale was driven by a majority of our shareholders. We understand the fears about our ability to remain competitive. We recognize the underlying concerns about the newspaper industry’s revenue and audience declines, and the desire of many of the shareholders to leave the painful decisions to cut costs, coverage and employees in someone else’s hands. We remained confident and hopeful that our current board of directors and management team would have been able to lead us through the industry’s headwinds more effectively and humanely than a hedge fund like Alden. The willingness to sell a company steeped in integrity and family tradition—and staffed by loyal, bright, compassionate employees—to a company with such a devastating reputation in the industry runs against everything we believe in. . . . A newspaper is much more than just a business. It is the only business explicitly protected by the Constitution. It is a local institution and expected to track government spending, keep an eye on politicians, advocate for the voiceless, ask tough questions, cover local sports and businesses, and record the milestones in readers’ lives. Newspapers ... are the only true local watchdog with a large newsroom and resources capable of providing in-depth, verified news and investigative reporting on a large scale in any community. Most family newspaper sale announcements bear some variation of stock language regarding the new owner's ability to ... 'continue to provide strong local reporting' and "maintain the legacy' of the selling family. Sadly, we feel that none of that will be true in our case."

A much more amicable sale: Delphos Herald Inc., one of the older family-owned newspaper chains, has sold its eight papers in Ohio and Indiana and its commercial printing plant to CherryRoad Media. Six of the papers are in northwest Ohio and are based in Delphos: the Delphos Herald, the Van Wert Times Bulletin, the Putnam County Sentinel, the Putnam County Vidette the Paulding Progress and the Ada Herald. Also sold were the Monroe County Beacon, a stand-alone weekly in Woodsfield, Ohio, and the Register of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, in the state's southeast corner. Company President Roberta Cohen said her father, Murray Cohen, who died in December 2021, started the chain in 1962: "I can entrust our long-held newspapers to a company that shares the same vision and values that my sister Jennifer Shneiderman and I have and that my father had." CherryRoad owner Jeremy Gulban said he would keep the printing plant, his second bought in short order: "While the newspaper industry looks to embrace the digital future, we realize there is a need to keep printing newspapers."

Kansas reporter files federal lawsuit against police chief who confiscated her personal cell phone during raid

Marion County Record raid, reporter Deb Gruver’s desk appears bottom right.
(Record screen capture of surveillance video via Kansas Reflector)

A Kansas reporter says she is standing up for journalists across the country by filing a federal lawsuit against the police chief who confiscated her cellphone as part of a raid on the Marion County Record, reports Josh Funk of The Associated Press. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday. “Deb Gruver believes Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody violated her constitutional rights when he abruptly snatched her personal cellphone out of her hands during a search where officers also seized computers from the Marion County Record’s office, according to the lawsuit. That Aug. 11 search and two others conducted at the homes of the newspaper’s publisher and a City Council member have thrust the town into the center of a debate over the press protections in the First Amendment."

In previous statements, Cody said the search was prompted by a complaint from a local restaurant owner who claimed reporters used illegal means to access her driving record, which included DUI arrest. Gruver’s filing indicates the raid went well beyond the warrant’s scope. “The lawsuit says that the warrant expressly said that the search was supposed to focus only on equipment that was used to access those records, which was done by another reporter at the paper. But after Cody handed Gruver a copy of the warrant and she told him that she needed to call the publisher, he quickly grabbed her personal phone,” Funk writes. “One of the officers even read Gruver, another reporter and an office administrator their Miranda rights before forcing them outside in the heat to watch the three-hour search.”

According to Funk's report, "Legal experts believe the raid on the newspaper violated a federal privacy law or a state law shielding journalists from having to identify sources or turn over unpublished material to law enforcement." While authorities have returned the Record's computers and cellphones, Record Publisher Eric Meyer said it would use a forensic examination "to find out whether law enforcement had accessed or reviewed any of their records." 

Opinion: Backcountry access is a tangle of public lands, private property and people treading all over the place

Runners on the Gateway Loop Trail at the McDowell Sonoran
Preserve in Ariz. (Photo by Caitlin O'Hara, The Washington Post) 
America’s backcountry is a tangled mix of public lands and private property, and access battles over where one ends and another begins are "wildly complex," Maddy Butcher of Colorado writes in her opinion for The Washington Post.

The "this land is your land; this land is my land" ideal does not apply to private property, and violators who purposely or accidentally tread on private lands have faced criminal charges and civil suits. "Across the West, courts are reflecting the struggles that residents and visitors face in trying to balance public trust and private land ownership. Some cast it as simple battles of rich vs. poor, or of locals vs. out-of-towners." But an "us" vs. "them" approach is an oversimplification of a dynamic web.

"As outdoor recreation increasingly fuels economies here and as landowners assert their rights, the clashes — not just in courts but also across streams, fence lines and dirt paths — will continue. . . . Many of us here struggle to roll with the triple influx of transplants, second-home owners and visitors. Like the courts, when we consider the multifaceted impact of this population flow, we’re conflicted."

Having so many visitors can lead communities feeling "loved to death. . . . Cluelessness abounds. . . . I’ve seen young hikers in the woods, dressed in tan during hunting season, looking more like deer than they realize and unaware that hunting season is a thing. I’ve seen private lands treated like public lands and public lands treated like gift shops, with visitors taking home artifacts, plants and animals."

Western state laws vary widely, and visitors and new residents best learn about theirs. "When I moved to Colorado from Utah several years ago, someone handed me The Good Neighbor Guidebook for Colorado. Edited by two lawyers, the book helps readers navigate the laws and customs around fencing, water use, wildlife and livestock. In this state, your dogs can legally be shot for chasing deer; you can’t divert a stream even a little bit; you must mitigate your noxious weeds; and if you don’t want cattle grazing your land, you’ll have to fence them out."

Nature is also feeling the squeeze. "As we twist and turn around boundaries and rights, we might pause to consider also doing some problem-grappling on an ecosystem level: Elk, bear, marmots and coyotes move to places where there is less pressure from human presence. But lately, that pressure is coming at them from all sides."

Talk with Report for America in a webinar today about getting a reporter next year; application deadline Sept. 18

Calling all rural newsrooms—there’s still time to sign up for this afternoon's Report for America information webinar at 4:15 p.m. ET/3:15 p.m. CT MT/1:15 p.m. The webinar will be hosted by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. To gain access, send an email to Institute Director Emeritus Al Cross at

"Report for America's efforts to place talented journalists in rural newsrooms have been limited partly by a shortage of applications from those newsrooms," Cross said. "This is a chance for rural editors and publishers to talk directly with Earl Johnson, RFA's vice president for recruitment, about the program." The deadline to apply for a reporter who would start next July is Sept. 18.

RFA said in a recent announcement, "While all local news organizations are eligible to apply, Report for America looks to expand its reach into rural areas. On the application, prospective newsrooms should identify specific gaps in coverage in the community, drawing attention to under-covered communities or issues."

In April, RFA announced the pairing of 60 journalists and newsrooms, 16 of them with rural employers or beats. A story on that is here. RFA says successful newsroom applicants get:
● Service-minded reporters, photographers and videographers
● Diverse, hand-picked candidates from a pool of emerging and experienced journalists
● Salary subsidies: 50% the first year, 33% the second year
● Local fundraising coaching and resources, including the opportunity for fiscal sponsorship to accept donations
● Extra training and mentoring for journalists

RFA says it understands the challenges today’s newsrooms face, not only finding talented journalists but also providing the mentorship and support they might seek. It says, "By partnering with Report for America, local newsrooms are better positioned to cover important issues, diversify their newsrooms, and grow sustainable, local support within their communities." More information about how the program works can be found here.

Feds propose the first minimum-staffing rules for nursing homes, and they are weaker than the industry expected

Federal officials' proposed minimum standards for nursing-home staffing are weaker than expected, Bridget Early reports for Inside Health Policy.

The nursing-home industry had anticipated a proposal for about 4.1 hours of employee work time per resident day, meaning that a home with 25 residents would require 18 staffers (times 4.1 hours per resident day = 175 hours per week, divided by 40 hours per week = 17.9 employees).

Instead, Early reports, "The minimum staffing scenarios assessed in the report ranged from 3.3 HPRD to 3.8 HPRD," which would call for 14.4 to 16.625 employees to cover 25 residents.

The regulation could have major implications for rural nursing homes, which generally have more difficulty recruting and retaining staff than those in cities.

The regulation, proposed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "cleared the White House Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday, Aug. 29, the same day a CMS study underpinning the rule was leaked and created a firestorm among stakeholders," Early reports. "The White House budget office also canceled its two remaining stakeholder meetings on the issue in the wake of the leak. The proposed rule had been pending at OMB since May 30. The two meetings were scheduled for the first and second weeks of September. The meetings were requested by the Organization of Nurse Leaders and the Association of Jewish Aging Services."

Early notes, "The nursing-home industry has lobbied hard against staffing minimums and has called for a White House event to explore alternatives, but patient advocates have backed staffing minimums."

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Nonprofit journalism in rural areas needs 'ignition' that helps citizens understand that they can raise philanthropic support

Newsrack in Monterey, Va. (PBS)
By Al Cross, director emeritus
Institute for Rural Journalism, University of Kentucky

Judy Woodruff of PBS continued her reports about journalism and democracy on "NewsHour" tonight with a story about a rural Virginia editor-publisher who charges $5 a copy for her weekly paper, and a look at the prospects of journalism being funded by philanthropy as well as advertising and the audience.

"While that nonprofit model is showing promise in urban settings, economic realities persist for small, local newspapers that still depend on subscriptions and advertising," Woodruff reports, referring to The Recorder, a weekly that covers three counties in the Allegheny Mountains of Virginia and was the first newspaper to report plans for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a project abandoned in the face of public opposition (and the first to report its demise, she says). Editor-Publisher Anne Adams raised her single-copy price to $5 in 2017, and when the pandemic hit in 2020, her readers helped her stay afloat with donations.

But few rural newspapers are asking for donations or charging that high a price for single copies, which would seem to require a certain level of quality that is harder to achieve when profit margins have become thin. "There just isn't sufficient subscriber revenue to pay the bills, and of course, there's not sufficient philanthropic dollars to lift them up over the profit margin," newspaper researcher Penny Abernathy of Northwestern University told Woodruff.

It may take a different way of thinking. Sarabeth Berman, head of the American Journalism Project, which is supporting 41 newsrooms, including Mississippi Today, the Pulitzer Prize winner that was also featured in Woodruff's report, said "These organizations are really thinking of their financial structure in the same way we think of other organizations that are really essential to our communities, like libraries and museums and other institutions that stitch us together."

That's harder in rural areas. Abernathy said, "These smaller communities are kind of at a loss as how you go about getting that initial ignition that brings people together and helps 'em understand that they can do this, they can raise that money to support local news operations." 

She said, "Increasingly I'm worried that we're evolving into a nation of journalistic haves and have-nots. That has huge implications for not only our democracy but for our society: How do we come together around a common set of facts to solve the issues that are confronting us in the 21st century?"

An earlier report in Woodruff's series focused on another great rural editor-publisher, Laurie Ezzell Brown of The Canadian Record of Texas, which now exists only on Facebook after it stopped printing in March.

News-media roundup: Gannett sells to CherryRoad again, this time for its first press; Okla. gets a States Newsroom

Reno County, Kansas, of which
Hutchinsion is the seat. (Wikipedia)
CherryRoad Media CEO Jeremy Gulban said at this year's National Summit on Journalism in Rural America that so many pressrooms are closing, he might build a printing plant for his growing newspaper chain. Now he has decided to keep building his company in the main way he's already done it: buy from Gannett Co. Gulban announced Wednesday that he has agreed to buy Gannett's printing plant in Hutchinson, Kansas, which is already printing most of his 80 papers, more than 60 bought from Gannett. The sale does not include Gannett's Hutchinson News. Gulban said in a press release that he "wants to blend new technologies with traditional printed publications to help ensure the future of local newspapers."

States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets, has launched its 36th operation, Oklahoma Voice. The editor-in-chief is Janelle Stecklein, who has covered Oklahoma government and politics since 2014 as state-capital bureau chief for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

Seventeen nonprofit news organizations have created the Alliance of Nonprofit News Outlets to provide mutual aid and encourage more philanthropic contributions to their operations. The group grew out of appeals to foundations for more unrestricted operating grants. "It was evident that we needed an organization to represent the interests of nonprofit news outlets by continuing to apply pressure on funders for the long haul," wrote Jason Pramas, executive director of the Boston Center for Nonprofit Journalism. "We have absolutely no intention of competing with existing nonprofit news coalitions like the Institute for Nonprofit News and the Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers. ANNO’s work will be focused on pushing journalism funders to give more money to news nonprofits, give it directly to those organizations, and disburse it in the form of larger general operating grants rather than smaller, less effective, project grants."

Some rural Iowa communities continue to lose population, but by 'shrinking smart' that doesn't have to be all bad news

Grand Mound Hometown Pride Committee member
Sarah Beuthien. (Photo by Savannah Blake, The Gazette)

As many rural towns in Iowa face decreasing populations, some opt to use "shrink smart" planning to improve citizens' quality of life while maintaining services, reports Tom Baron of The Gazette in Cedar Rapid, Iowa. The approach began as a project. "Iowa State's rural smart shrinkage project received a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build upon a 2017 pilot study examining whether there were towns in Iowa that have lost population but perception of quality of life has remained stable or improved."

The project focused on "learning from six rural Iowa towns (Elma, Sac City, Bancroft, Corning, Mt. Ayr and Everly) where active, dedicated residents — called 'local champions' — are collaborating to maintain and boost quality of life" Barton writes. "The team found that, among other factors, social infrastructure plays a major role in whether residents report greater quality of life." Kimberly Zarecor, a professor of architecture who is leading an Iowa State University research project, advised towns to expend resources on community building vs. trying to "lure more families and employers to sparsely populated rural areas." Studied communities who adopted the shrink smart approach built on "quality-of-life initiatives-- such as trails, community events, fitness options and child care — [that] are typically low-cost and in local control, Zarecor said."

David Peters, a rural sociologist with ISU Extension and coordinator of the Iowa Small Towns Project, used Grand Mound, "a town of a little more than 600 people in Clinton County near the eastern edge of the state," as an example, Barton reports. "Grand Mound has experienced setbacks. The local school closed along with the local grocery store, restaurants and bars. Yet, the town has managed to maintain a relatively high quality of life, Peters said. Grand Mound has seen slower population loss than other small towns in the state but has higher social capital. Residents surveyed. . . . said they felt much more involved in decisions and feel the town is supportive and trusting of new projects and ideas. Peter told Barton, "In short, (Grand Mound) is a moderately shrinking place with a high and growing quality of life."

Dental care for low-income rural residents often out of reach

Dr. Jessica Meeske of Hastings, Neb., works on a patient.
(Photo by Laura Beahm, Flatwater Free Press)
Toothaches can cause a lot of pain and make eating difficult, so it's important to see a dentist as soon as possible. But what if no dentist in your area will accept you as a patient--even if you have state Medicaid insurance? You suffer and search for options even hundreds of miles away, which is what many rural residents in Nebraska are doing, reports Destiny Herbers of Flatwater Free Press.

Arline Morris desperately needs oral care, but she lives in Stratton, Neb., more than 200 miles from any dentist that will take her Medicaid insurance, Herbers explains. "She can’t eat much and struggles daily with constant pain while taking medication that makes her teeth even more fragile. . . . She’s been offered appointments at Omaha and Lincoln. . . . [But] It’s an eight-hour round trip, plus hours of dental work. . . John Morris, Arline’s husband and sole caretaker, spends his days calling around for help, working around the spotty cell phone signal at their home. He’s talked to more than 50 dentists’ offices with no luck."

Over the past five years, "the total number of dental providers reimbursed after treating at least one Medicaid-eligible patient dropped by 37%," Herbers writes. "The problem is especially pronounced in western Nebraska. Only two dozen dentists west of Kearney have been paid for treating a Medicaid patient this year. Forty-three Nebraska counties, many in the state’s western half, have zero dentists helping low-income Nebraskans."

Why does Nebraska have low-income dental deserts? "Because it doesn’t pay," Herber reports. "State government reimbursements for this dental work have fallen 'far below market levels,' said Dr. Jessica Meeske of Hastings. They fail to cover the overhead costs of most procedures, leading to what Meeske calls a 'crisis level' with large numbers of patients unable to get care. . . . Meeske, a pediatric dentist at Pediatric Dental Specialists of Greater Nebraska, said her clinic turns away 15 families a day because they are 'overloaded and booked out.'"

Nebraska isn't the only state with dental Medicaid woes. The Rural Blog spoke to Gabriella Fryer in Orono, Maine; she and her husband, Cody, have three children ages 3 to 9, all of whom qualify for "Mainecare," the state's Medicaid program. Fryer described their experience: "There are very, very few dentists that accept Medicaid, even for kids, and ones that do have such [long] waitlists that you never get seen. A dental hygienist comes to schools, and that's the only way kids get seen and get referred to a dentist for cavities and whatnot." Fryer noted she and Cody opted to pay out-of-pocket to see a private-practice dental hygienist for preventative care, hoping to avoid dental problems in the first place. She adds, "That's not an option for everyone. . . . Mainecare says it "offers" dental care--but not really."

Florida is another state where low-income rural residents have limited dental care options because few dental school graduates choose to live in those areas, reports Lauren Peace of the Tampa Bay Times. "With fewer patients in mostly poorer rural communities, graduates flock to private practices elsewhere, seeking financial stability. . . . . Because Medicaid reimbursements for dental care are paltry, even in urban areas, most dentists opt not to serve Medicaid patients."

Call for proposals focusing on 'Strengthening Community News' from Intl. Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is accepting proposals for its 2024 ISWNE/Huck Boyd Competition focused on “Strengthening Community News.” Proposals should provide "insight and guidance on general issues and/or everyday problems that confront community newspapers and their newsrooms, with particular reference to weekly general-interest publications with circulations under 10,000." Proposal submissions are due via email on Nov. 2. 

This competition builds on the Huck Boyd Center’s former “Newspapers and Community-Building Symposium,” co-sponsored for 20 years by the National Newspaper Association and its foundation. According to information from ISWNE and the Huck Boyd Center, "the competition’s ultimate goal is to engage academicians and community newspaper journalists in productive conversations about community journalism.”

ISWNE hotline access is available for society members and non-members. Non-members may request temporary access by contacting Executive Director Chad Stebbins at Hotline discussions feature topics of interest to weekly newsrooms and could be used to focus potential proposals.

Possible topics "could include legal, political, or ethical issues; alternative print/digital integration models; or surveys to determine successful techniques for staff recruitment/retention, for boosting online presence, or to elicit best practices for special editions," according to the ISWNE and Huck Boyd Center information. 

One paper will be selected by a panel of working and retired community journalists for presentation at the 2024 ISWNE conference scheduled for June or July 2024 in Toronto, Canada.  ISWNE and the ISWNE Foundation will provide the author with a complementary conference registration and a partial subsidy for travel. 

Brazil set to become the world's leading corn exporter, overtaking the U.S. for the second time in history

Photo by Carl Schlabach, Unsplash
The days of U.S. "king of corn" exports are coming to a close. “Brazil is set to overtake the United States this year as the world’s top corn exporter, reports Ana Mano of Reuters, “reflecting both a bumper harvest and logistical breakthroughs such as the consolidation of northern export routes, which are boosting the competitiveness of the South American grains powerhouse.”

The increased exports in Brazil are helped by more shipments from its northern region because of investments in nearby ports, "which use the waterways of the Amazon River basin to ship grains globally," Mano reports. "The shift underscores how Brazil, which churns out three corn crops per year and still has huge expanses of under-used farmland, is finally overcoming some of the infrastructure bottlenecks that have long made it hard to get its bountiful harvests to global markets."

Last year, Brazil publicized its new supply deal with China, which suggests Brazil "may be opening a longer era of supremacy over U.S. corn exports, unlike the last time the Brazilians briefly grabbed the global corn crown during North America's drought-hit 2012-13 season," Mano writes. "Major new investments in Brazil have begun to ease several chokepoints and bring down logistics costs sharply, helping to undercut U.S. farmers. Corn futures in Chicago have fallen from a 10-year high in April 2022 to a two-and-a-half-year low this month, in part due to ample supplies from Brazil."

When Safeway and Fry's started talking about merging, rural Arizona residents pushed back

In rural Arizona, resident are leery of grocery store mergers.
(Photo by Craig Smith, KGUN-ABC)
As Safeway and Fry's grocery store chains start discussing mergers, rural Arizona residents are concerned. "Rural opposition is coming together to a proposal to merge the Fry’s and Safeway grocery chains," reports Craig Smith of KGUN-ABC in Tuscon, Ariz. "The plan would have a nationwide impact because grocery brands in many states are part of the parent companies Kroger and Albertsons/Safeway."

Cochise County, pop. 125,500, over 6,219 sq. miles
(Wikipedia map)
Residents worry further corporate consolidation would inevitably close their neighborhood grocery store. "In a small town like Benson, you might only have a few places to go shopping for groceries. Skeptics about the merger say if it does close stores, people in Cochise County could have some long drives to get their groceries," Smith explains. Sierra Vista Mayor Clea McCaa "says with one Safeway and one Fry's, half of his city could become a food desert if the stores consolidate and one closes. He’s afraid of reduced competition, higher prices, and reduced access to other critical services like pharmacies."

The town of Douglas, which is also in Cochise Country, has already lost one grocery store. "Last year, Food City shut down. That left Douglas with a Walmart as its only large grocery," Smith adds. "Douglas Mayor Donald Huish says that costs people in his town time, trouble and money. Congressman Ruben Gallego is teaming up with rural mayors to send a letter to the Federal Trade Commission urging the FTC to reject the merger. Congressman Gallego says the merger could hurt small-town businesses too if customers drive out of town for their groceries and decide to do other shopping there too."

"Kroger is the company leading this merger effort," Smith reports. "Responding to the latest concerns, Kroger sent this: 'Kroger joining with Albertsons will mean lower prices and more choices for more customers in more communities, higher wages and more industry-leading benefits for associates, and growing union jobs. The only parties who would benefit if this merger is not completed are large, non-unionized competitors such as Walmart and Amazon.'”

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

To save their wilderness, people in this politically divided rural area in New York decided to start talking

Adirondack Park boasts 6 million wild acres.
( photo)
In an era where public discourse can dissolve into shouting matches and expletives, politically divided residents in rural New York have found a way to listen and discuss heated topics civilly, reports Brian Mann of NPR.

To understand how this fragile peace took shape, a visit back to the 1990s in New York's Adirondack Park where a "CBS cameraman captured a violent confrontation. An environmental activist was attacked by a local government leader named Maynard Baker." According to Mann, Baker went on to yell, "'Go back wherever you come from, but get out of here, out of our lives and out of our business.'"

The history of tensions turned violent more than once. Mann explains, "The Adirondack Park is 6 million acres. Small towns here are surrounded by big chunks of heavily regulated land. Historian Phil Terry says the fight over environmental rules turned dangerous." Terry told him, "There was an attempt to set the Park Agency headquarters on fire. One of the Park Agency staff members had bullets flying around his car one day."

Green highlight encircles the massive
New York park. (Wikipedia map)
"In a lot of ways, the Adirondacks then resembled America today. Conspiracy theories and threats of violence were commonplace, " Mann reports, "Former New York Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, lives now in the park. He says the stakes were high. When he took office, huge tracts of privately owned land in the park were being eyed by developers. . . . Pataki unveiled an ambitious environmental plan to keep that from happening. . . . Pataki says the battle lines then were pretty much like what we see now across the U.S.--pro-business vs. pro-environment, urban vs. rural, people looking for agreement versus those who wanted to fight. He says his message to furious locals was simple. Let's start talking."

Zoe Smith, an environmental activist on the Adirondack Park Agency board, told Mann, "Our agenda is simply to have civil discourse. There are a lot of long conversations that happen, phone calls after hours."

"Everyone interviewed for this story said the Adirondack experiment has been successful so far but also messy," Mann adds. "They say the peace here often feels fragile, shaken by occasional lawsuits and by angry flare-ups on social media. But Zoe Smith with the Common Ground Alliance says people here keep talking, in part because they know how bad things can be when neighbors turn against neighbors."

The peace is an ongoing community effort to build bridges instead of burn them down. Mann reports, "So far, nearly a million acres of wild forest and lakes have been protected here with local buy-in and local input -- makes you wonder what could be done in other parts of the U.S. if people started talking again rather than making threats and shouting each other down."

Rates of depression in Appalachia are startling; persistent stigma keeps residents from asking for help

Logan, West Virginia, is the largest town in Logan County.
(Photo by Phil Galewitz, KFF Health News)
Depression is a painful mental health disease that can prevent people from participating in daily life. However, admitting to mental depression is still stigmatized even in places like West Virginia and its surrounding Appalachian states where the disease is most concentrated; asking for help is one of the biggest problems, Phil Galewitz of KFF Health News reports. “An estimated 32% of adults in Logan County, W.Va., have been diagnosed with depression — the highest rate in the United States and nearly double the national rate, according to a report released in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Logan County, W.Va. (Wikipedia)
The study, which provided estimates by county based on a national survey of nearly 400,000 people conducted in 2020, “showed depression rates varied widely by region and even within states,” Galewitz writes. Almost all the counties with the highest rates were Appalachia. . . . “West Virginia, which also has some of the nation’s highest rates of poverty and poor health, is home to eight of the 10 counties with the highest estimated rates of adult depression, the CDC survey found.”

Depression is an insidious disease. “It’s a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and a loss of interest in things once enjoyed. It affects eating, sleeping, concentrating, and activities such as working or going to school.” Mark Miller, a psychiatry professor at West Virginia University, told Galewitz, “Depression is often a chronic illness, and if you stop treatment, it eventually comes back.” Galewitz adds, “He said his state’s combination of poor overall health, low education levels, and poverty — as well as the opioid epidemic, which has hit West Virginia particularly hard — takes a punishing toll on residents’ mental health.”

“In Logan County, nearly a quarter of whose 31,000 residents live in poverty, few expressed surprise when told their home tops the list of most depressed counties,” Galewitz adds. And yet, medical professionals in Logan County are not busy giving mental health referrals or treatment. “Robert Perez, an internist in Logan, estimates more than half of his patients have depression. But he said few want to talk about it or accept a referral to a psychiatrist, and he is limited in what he can do for them.” Perez told Galewitz, “It’s hard to convince people who don’t want to be helped. I don’t have that much time to treat their depression.”

People can also harbor beliefs that asking for help means they’re lacking faith in God or that persistent unhappiness can result from cloudy weather. Galewitz writes, “Indeed, Chris Palmer, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said the notion that cloudy weather explains high depression rates does not help the problem. That viewpoint ‘strikes me as a hopeless and nihilistic attitude, that we are drowning and there is nothing we can do about it,’ he said.”

“In June, the same month the CDC released its findings, Coalfield Health Center, a federally funded clinic in the county, announced it had hired its first psychiatrist, David Lewis,” Galewitz reports. “Lewis, who grew up in Logan County and taught high school math here, said he has seen about 50 patients so far and knows he has room to see more. . . . Coalfield is struggling to overcome the stigma and other treatment obstacles around depression.”

Who's the man behind the song? 'Rich Men North of Richmond' singer shares how his experiences inspire his lyrics

The Farmville Herald Photo
Oliver Anthony's song "Rich Men North of Richmond” exploded onto the charts shortly after he and a friend posted it. The song is heartfelt and includes political insults for just about everyone, but it also leaves questions about its singer. Who is Anthony Oliver? What does he want the song to say to listeners? "Anthony said that he wrote this music for his mental health, as he was dealing with depression, Brian Carlton of The Farmville Herald reports. "And he believes they connect with people because listeners know he believes what he’s singing."

The singer gave the country insight into his views with a post on his social media accounts, Carlton writes. "'I’m sitting in such a weird place in my life right now. I never wanted to be a full-time musician, much less sit at the top of the iTunes charts. Draven from RadioWv and I filmed these tunes on my land with the hope that it may hit 300k views. I still don’t quite believe what has gone on since we uploaded that. It’s just strange to me.'”

Carlton reports, "'First off, Anthony wrote, his legal name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford. His musical handle was done as a tribute. 'My grandfather was Oliver Anthony, and Oliver Anthony Music is a dedication not only to him but 1930’s Appalachia where he was born and raised. . . . Dirt floors, seven kids, hard times. At this point, I’ll gladly go by Oliver because everyone knows me as such. But my friends and family still call me Chris. You can decide for yourself; either is fine.' . . . Anthony said he dropped out of school at age 17 in 2010, later earning his GED in North Carolina."

Hard work with little to show for it is one of the song's themes--its lyrics cry out from Anthony's personal experiences. Carlton adds Anthony's post: “'I worked multiple plant jobs in Western NC, my last being at the paper mill in McDowell County. I worked the 3rd shift, six days a week, for $14.50 an hour in a living hell. In 2013, I had a bad fall at work and fractured my skull. It forced me to move back home to Virginia. Due to complications from the injury, it took me six months or so before I could work again.'”

Tractor competitions: It's time to 'get plowed'

Hailer Gruber, left, is veteran plowing competitor.
(Photo by Jerry Nelson, Successful Farming)
Even if some things feel like they're going to heck in a handbasket, fall is a time to celebrate, which includes tractor-plowing competitions. “You never know what you might learn when you attend a notorious event like the Annual Steam Threshing Jamboree held each August at Madison, South Dakota,” reports Jerry Nelson of Successful Farming. “It’s the sort of gathering where the phrase, ‘Let’s get plowed!’ is taken literally.”

The Jamboree hosts the South Dakota State Open Plowing Contest, whose audience, judges and participants draw quite a crowd to this rural town of 6,200. The contest features “elderly tractors slowly pulling antique plows back and forth, flipping over the golden stubble to reveal rich, black soil,” Nelson explains. “The contestants were taking things quite seriously, stopping frequently to make adjustments or to simply eyeball the situation. Tape measures were spooled out, and impromptu midfield conferences were held.”

Nelson met up with Hailey Gruber from Richmond, Minn., population 1,500, to get the dirt on being a tractor plow competitor. Gruber is a junior at South Dakota State University studying mechanical engineering. “She is also a veteran international plowing competitor,” Nelson adds.

An edited snippet of their Q&A is below:

How did you get involved in competitive plowing?
My dad, Gene, grew up on a dairy farm in Spring Hill, Minnesota. His father, Werner, was a champion plowman and made sure that his sons learned the art of competition plowing. I began to ride with Dad on his tractor when I was a little girl. . . .Dad gave me my first tractor when I was seven, and I participated in my first plowing contest when I was ten. Dad was so happy that one of his two daughters was following in his footsteps. Or, in this case, his furrow.

What has been your biggest plowing achievement?

I won the U.S. Plowing Championship in 2017, which qualified me for the 2018 World Ploughing Contest in Hofgut Einsiedel, Germany. I placed sixth in a field of 25 competitors from around the world. I was 16 years old at the time and the only female in the competition.

What do you look for when you judge a moldboard plowing contest?

The first thing we look for is straight furrows. We will also deduct points based on the amount of trash left on the surface. The furrows must be uniform; you shouldn’t be able to tell one pass from another. It’s crucial to leave a straight and shallow dead furrow in the middle of your plot when you’re done.

“Gruber’s wisdom is pay attention to the details, drive straight and true, don’t leave any trash behind, and do your best to maintain an even keel,” Nelson adds. “Sounds like a recipe for a successful plowing contest and a well-lived life.”

Ogden Nutting, longtime head of Ogden Newspapers, dies

Ogden Nutting
G. Ogden Nutting, who watched his family newspaper chain spread from West Virginia to 17 other states, died Friday, Aug. 25, at age 87.

Nutting was the grandson of H.C. Ogden of Wheeling, who founded Ogden Newspapers in 1890. Nutting became president of the company in 1970, when it owned seven daily and two weekly newspapers in West Virginia and 19 other newspapers across the country, reports The Intelligencer, the chain's flagship. It now has more than 50 dailies and 80 weeklies, mostly in small markets, and is run by his son, CEO Robert Nutting, who also owns the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Ogden Nutting was the “last of the great publishers in the history of newspapers in West Virginia,” West Virginia Press Association Executive Director Don Smith told The Intelligencer.  “Ogden Nutting symbolized the family newspaper ownership that served as the structure of our association during the last century and ensured a free and independent press across West Virginia.”

Nutting received many awards and established a scholarship fund at West Virginia University for juniors and seniors studying print media, as well as a library endowment, multimedia studio, visiting professorship and semimar series. He was part of an effort by publisher Kevin McClatchy to keep the Pirates in Pittsburgh and build PNC Park. He "was chronicled in Ski magazine for likely skiing at more ski resorts than anyone had skied before," The Intelligencer reports.

Nutting is survived by his wife, Betty Woods “Snookie” Nutting; his brother, William C. Nutting; sons William and Robert Nutting; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. "There will be no visitation or public service," The Intelligencer reports. "Those desiring to do so should make contributions to the church or charity of their choice."

Monday, August 28, 2023

Small-town feud led to a raid that sent a shock through U.S. journalism; weekly paper is 'perhaps a little emboldened'

The first post-raid issue of the Marion County Record
(Photo by Chase Castor, The Washington Post)
"A police raid without precedent on a weekly newspaper alarmed First Amendment advocates. The real story of how it happened, though, is rooted in the roiling tensions and complex history of a few key community members," The Washington Post says above the most comprehensive report of the episode at the Marion County Record, written from Marion, Kansas, by Jonathan O’Connell, with help from Paul Farhi and Sofia Andrade in Washington.

Many of the details have been reported; Kari Newell, a business owner and restaurateur, and a newly hired police chief, Gideon Cody, wanted to avoid having their pasts investigated and possibly exposed by the newspaper. Newell said the Record is "like Geraldo [Rivera] meets the National Enquirer," the Post reports, and when Record reporter Deb Gruver asked Cody "about the career change that had brought him to this prairie community of 1,900 people," he set an initial "print that and I'll sue you" tone and stopped releasing the daily police logs, Publisher Eric Meyer said. "Cody told The Post that his review led him to believe these disclosures could violate privacy laws," an assertion that appears to have no basis in fact since the logs had been published for decades.

"At an Aug. 7 city council meeting, the tension among Cody, Newell and the Record exploded into public view," the Post reports. "During a hearing about her liquor-license application, Newell furiously alleged to the room that the Record had illegally obtained her driving record." The Post explains: "A couple of Marion residents — including Newell’s estranged husband — had circulated a screenshot of a page from a state database showing that the restaurateur had 15 years ago lost her driver’s license following a drunken-driving conviction." A later police affidavit alleged that a City Council member "intended to use the document to challenge Newell’s attempt to renew a liquor license," and the screenshot also made it to Record reporter Phyllis Zorn. To confirm the information, Zorn "went to the website for the Kansas Revenue Department and searched Newell’s name, plugging in certain personal information gleaned from the screenshot — Newell’s date of birth and driver’s license number — so she could access Newell’s record."

At that time, before the council meeting, "The Record decided against publishing a story — just as it had taken a pass on the murky accusations about Cody last spring. Meyer said he was uneasy with how the newspaper’s original tipster had obtained Newell’s record. Instead, he said, he privately let the police chief know that he had received some information about Newell that the original sources may have accessed illicitly. He said he also volunteered to the chief his suspicion that Newell had been driving without a license." When the matter went public, the paper published a story quoting Newell as "saying after the meeting that people all around Marion were high-fiving her for 'finally standing up to the Record'," the Post notes. The next day came the raids on the newspaper, the council member's home and the home Meyer shared with his 98-year-old mother (who died the next day), based on Cody's affadavit saying that Zorn was “either impersonating [Newell] or lying about the reasons why the record was being sought,” which are limited under Kansas law. The alleged crimes were unlawful use of a computer and felony identity theft, but the Revenue Department said later that Zorn's use of its website was legal.

"By day’s end, the story of how police swarmed the Record’s brick storefront offices and Meyer’s nearby home — walking off with computers, servers and a backup hard drive . . . was major news in Kansas and drawing attention beyond the state," the Post reports. Gabe Rottman of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told the Post, "I think everyone realized how much of an existential threat this was." Such groups have "raised concerns about an overt strain of antipathy toward the media increasingly displayed by some politicians and public officials since the dawn of the Trump era," the Post notes. "Yet an actual raid by police represented a kind of government intrusion on media operations that none could remember seeing in this country. Federal law generally protects journalists from search warrants or raids, requiring law enforcement investigating a crime that reporters may have information about to use subpoenas or voluntary cooperation instead."

In an interview with Brooklyn-based journalist Marisa Kabas of The Handbasket, a Substack newsletter, Meyer "revealed the until-then-secret fact that the Record had been investigating Cody’s career in Kansas City and implied a possible connection to the raid," the Post reports. Cody told the Post, "I have no vendetta against them" and said, “How am I supposed to look the other way when I have a victim who says, ‘Are you going to do anything about this?’” Cody "noted that he had no unilateral power to launch the raid, which he said was approved by a county attorney and a local judge," but five days later the county attorney withdrew the warrant and the police returned seized items to the paper, promising to destroy a copy they made of one hard drive, which Meyer fears may have contained confidential information about the newspsper;s investigations.

"The Record continued its work as usual — or perhaps a little emboldened," the Post reports. "Gruver finally began publishing the reporting she had gathered about Cody’s Kansas City tenure last spring, including blistering, subjective and highly personal criticism attributed to sources who remained anonymous. It was the kind of reporting that previously gave the Record ethical hesitations — but that it now was going ahead with because 'other news organizations have begun publishing similar accounts from unnamed sources,' she wrote."

When Meyer welcomed reporter O'Connell to the office last week, "another visitor walked in, using a wooden cane for support," he reports. "Sporting cowboy boots and a red Donald Trump ball cap, the man eagerly shook Meyer’s hand," and urged him, “Don’t stop! Keep going!”

O'Connell ends the story: "Out front, a spontaneous memorial had popped up, surrounded by flowers. In the middle sat a framed photo of Joan Meyer," whose death her son blamed on stress caused by the raids.

Tyson Foods will close six plants, laying off 4,600 workers, leaving employees in rural counties with few options

David Handy at a Tyson poultry plant in rural Noel, Mo.
(Photo by Chase Castor, NBC News)

Six rural counties with Tyson Foods chicken processing plants are steeling themselves for job and revenue losses after the food behemoth announced it is closing plants in four states — Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas and Virginia — laying off "more than 4,600 workers who have long relied on its outsize presence as a local employer,” reports J.J. McCorvey of NBC News. In Noel, Mo., pop. 2,124, Tyson employs 1,500 workers who will lose jobs this October. The income loss will be felt throughout the county of 23,000 in the state's southwestern corner. Bryan Hall, the presiding county commissioner, "said Tyson provided so much of the area’s employment that the plant closure means a quarter of McDonald County’s jobs will vanish this fall."

David Handy, who has worked at the Noel plant for five years, is an example of a dominating employer's profound effect on one rural family's incomes. McCorvey explains: "Handy, 40, said he found the Tyson job soon after moving with his family in 2018 from California. . . . Until now, the company has provided economic stability for his entire household. Handy’s 21-year-old son works at the processing plant as well, and his 17-year-old daughter planned to join them after she graduates from high school next year." Handy told him, “This is really financially crushing. Our sole income is from this company. . . . Starting over is scary."

Over the past two years, the poultry industry suffered losses from the global avian flu outbreak, increasing grain prices and inflation. McCorvey reports, “While inflation has fallen, grocery prices remain high, and meat sales have slowed industrywide, contributing to Tyson’s $417 million loss in the last quarter. . . . But Tyson has also struggled with its own inefficiencies, said Kristoffer Inton, a Morningstar analyst who covers the company." Inton told McCorvey: "The cost of feed went up, but that affected everybody. You could probably chalk up some of it to stuff that affected the entire industry and some of it to [things] Tyson should have done better.”

McCorvey adds, "Laid-off plant workers’ fortunes might hinge on where they live. In North Little Rock, Arkansas, where Tyson employs 300 people in a community of 65,000 abutting the state capital’s metro area, other big companies such as Amazon and Costco have expanded." When its plant closes, laid-off employees will having an easier time finding a new job and the overall region has the economic capacity to shoulder the loss, but for residents from smaller, more rural towns, replacing their Tyson incomes will be tougher.