Among this year’s Academy Award-winning films was the one judged to be the year’s best full-length documentary, “American Factory.” It tells the story of workers in a Dayton, Ohio, auto factory that closes during the economic downturn of 2008, only to be reopened a few years later as a Chinese-owned auto-glass factory.
The same people who stood on auto assembly lines — like their parents before them — eager to work again, must face the challenge of adapting to a new industry and different working conditions. As the entertainment website IMDb describes it, “Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.”
It’s a tale told through the voices of the workers, both Chinese and American, as they learn each other’s ways and forge a new path forward. In the process, they make new friends and, at times, new adversaries. They struggle with differences in language, customs, expectations and standards.
Along the way, there are a few laughs. There’s also baseball, fishing and barbecue.
The documentary isn’t preachy; it’s lovingly and vibrantly filmed.
And though it’s set in Ohio, its story is applicable to workers everywhere, including in North Carolina, where many of us have had to wrestle with the pressures of a changing economic landscape.
One clear theme in the film is that change requires flexibility. Promises of a return to glory days are often broken.
A recurring theme on this page is the challenges faced by our rural neighbors, where unemployment has exacerbated problems such as access to health care and opioid addiction. These are problems that are all too familiar here — and that legislators have taken steps to address, with varying results.
To be fair, the solutions aren’t easy.
But Medicaid expansion, increasingly endorsed by business, medical and educational organizations and experts, would seem to be a no-brainer.
It not only would provide medical care for needy families, but it would create thousands of jobs and keep rural hospitals open. The state legislature’s refusal to sign on should be a scandal.
There are also success stories to be shared, as local go-getters find new paths to success.
In nearby Rockingham County, data show a recent rebound in population — though many newcomers, seeking small-town life and lower taxes, still commute to larger cities for employment.
Still, as BH Media’s Susie C. Spear wrote last month, “Long-shuttered downtowns are slowly but surely drawing shoppers back to historic main streets in Reidsville, Eden, Madison, Mayodan and Stoneville with the additions of quaint shops, the county’s first microbrew pub, novel activities and local boosterism.” That’s encouraging.
As we’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, in Greensboro, a diverse economic base that includes health and medicine, manufacturing, arts, education and tourism, among other industries, is far more stable than relying on one economic savior, so that all of our eggs won’t get cracked in the same basket.
Small businesses also play a key role and are sometimes overshadowed in our quests for new corporate behemoths.
America’s can-do spirit is legendary, as is our work ethic. And North Carolinians take a back seat to no one in those areas.
But we’re still hurting for new industries that will bring well-paying jobs and the benefits that come with them.
Effectively addressing that challenge will require vision, investment and innovation.