Just two weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette featured Ashtabula City on the front page of its Sunday edition under the headline “Ashtabula: A city that cries despair.” Written by Dennis B. Roddy, the story points out the city’s grim demographic figures and quotes Jason Strong, the city’s director of community development, as saying “Basically, we need someone to rescue us.”
Old attitudes are hard to break.
Some community leaders contacted for this story feel the most devastating attitude present in the county stems from the fact that many county residents simply have not accepted the fact the world has changed. This is no longer the Ashtabula County of the 1950s and ’60s, when a person did not need a college education to get a job and, if the morning’s job didn’t work out, a laborer could walk down the street to the next factory and get another job after lunch. The world has changed dramatically, even as many residents still wait for True Temper, Bow Socket and Reliance Electric to reopen their doors.
Businesses that have survived these decades of vicissitude have done so largely by eliminating competition, which has also reduced opportunity, innovation and progress in those sectors. When that survival is threatened through progressive ideas, evolution or direct competition, there is a fear of losing one’s place and livelihood in the community. Anthony Cantagallo, Ashtabula city manager, compares it to the “I will lose my rice bowl” mentality of the Chinese peasant. This has led to blocks of “good old boys” who watch out for each others’ interests while ignoring the overall good of the community.
Additionally, Cantagallo says leadership in the city and many parts of the county has been marked by re-active rather than pro-active spirit.
“As a populace, we are more concerned about where we are going to put our schools than how they are going to educate our children,” Cantagallo says.