Clutter has contact with educators, other business people and professionals across the state. “On the one hand, outsiders perceive us as ‘hicks’ and behind the other areas,” Clutter says.
The most telling outside perception that Clutter notices, however, is one of opportunity and resources ignored and squandered. He says most counties would be thrilled to have just one of Ashtabula County’s natural resources: the scenic rivers, the lake, wineries, orchards, natural areas or covered bridges. Yet we have all these and still can’t find the spark to make it come together for economic prosperity.
“They say, ‘It’s a great area up there; they don’t know what they got,’” Clutter says.
Regional cheerleading organizations like Team NEO and the Cleveland Plus campaign, are attempting to brand the entire region to outsiders and create a positive view of it. Locally, LEADERSHIPAshtabula strives to educate business and professional people about the county and its many resources. Growth Partnership for Ashtabula exists to retain jobs and attract new industries to the county.
City cries despair
Despite these innovations, there remains an undertow of negativity, perhaps even a curse, that some residents attribute to the 1876 train disaster, which put the city on the national map in a negative way. In the latter-half of the 20th century, the city was cursed with its Rust Belt association and high Superfund-site census. Last year, when national media turned its attention to Ashtabula as a result of the National Championship Game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the University of Florida Gators, visiting writers cast the city in uncomplimentary terms, making note of its low median household income and high poverty rate, painting its empty buildings and rutted roads as stereotypical Rust Belt. Urbandictionary.com has a most uncomplimentary description of “Trashtabula,” which includes the advice: “Run this stoplight, Dude. There is no way we are stopping this car in Trashtabula.”