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Notes from the heartland of industrialization

Christine Cassar's picture

From the little island of Malta, I now blog from Ann Arbor, Michigan—my home for the Northern hemispheric summer… The links between the two distant spots date back to organized emigration programs, where hundreds were encouraged to take the trip to the empire of Henry Ford and other production lines in search of greater and better opportunities.

I have landed in what is certainly a very different socio-economic picture. Malta and Michigan seem to have little in common apart from the presence of a Maltese community here and a spate of returned migrants from the US whose houses fly the stars and stripes on what is now the “other side” of the Atlantic. Yet these economically successful migrants are a generation dying out.

The situation in the Wolverine state is different today, with thoughts of recession and credit crises constantly floating around. Those whose immediate family members have been lucky enough to have kept their jobs certainly know someone who has not—neighbors, cousins, colleagues. The attitude is gloomy, although somewhat intermittently cautiously optimistic—this because, for many, things can hardly get any worse, or because of a genuine interest in the new administration’s role in restabilizing the economy (it is, after all, well-known that the state votes Democrat, and Obama-isms can still be seen sprayed, scribbled, written and posted around the streets).

Businesses of all sizes have closed down, and many filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; the auto industry, although perhaps the one that has been in the spotlight in this region, is certainly not the only one that has suffered.

The prospects seem somewhat doubtful at both ends—in Malta the end of the summer will be the time to tally the real impact of the economic recession. In a country where tourism provides the great majority of economic revenue it would be close to impossible to compute the ramifications of what is going on in the world. Michigan, on the other hand, is investing in attracting investment from the rest of the world. Google, which opened a (soon-to-be) 1000-employee headquarters in Ann Arbor, may be leading the way for similar non-industrial job creation. For a state that has been, for decades, the personification of employment stability, the starting point of the economic cycle of production, purchase power, demand and further production, as well as minimum wages and socio-economic mobility, the situation is particularly difficult; for Malta, an economy based on tourism means the suffering of the rest of the world will trickle in perhaps slower than what has been seen in most other states, yet will suffocate many a budding small or medium business (which form the great majority of employers). 

It seems that perhaps the two sides of the ocean are not facing issues that are that different after all…