The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 25, 2008

Beyond wineries and covered bridges …

A Neil Frieder column

The unemployment rate for Ashtabula County in January soared to 8 percent. A month before the county’s rate was 7.5 percent.

The state’s average for January was 6.3 percent. Ashtabula County’s next door neighbors, Lake and Geauga counties, had unemployment rates of 6.1 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively, for the same time period. Ashtabula County had the highest unemployment rate of the 13 counties making up northeast Ohio.

OK, so the state has been in a recession, probably over the last couple of months. That accounts for what is going on in Ashtabula County today. Right?

Yes, but it only is making a bad situation worse. The problem is Ashtabula County has been in a depressed economic state for a number of years. Notwithstanding this current recession, good economic times have eluded much of Ashtabula County and many of its people.

That should beg the question: Why does Ashtabula County consistently have high unemployment? In January it was 68th in a state of 88 counties. For years, it has been near the bottom rung of the state for employment. Unemployment joins two other problems associated with Ashtabula County to form one of those scurrilous ménage a trois of economics: underemployed, underpaid and unemployed.

That then should beg a series of whys: For example, why does Ashtabula County have a low per capita-income average? Or, why don’t people with college degrees or higher choose Ashtabula County to call home? Or, why aren’t there more retailers other than those that cater to low-income people? Why does the crime rate seem to be higher here? Why are there a lot of foreclosed and dilapidated properties in the county? Why do Lake and Geauga counties consistently have lower unemployment rates?

It is inevitable in Ashtabula County when you begin to ask those whys that someone will ask a different series of whys: “Why don’t you point out the good things of the county, like wineries, covered bridges, Lake Erie and its people? Why are you so negative?”

It is true this county has these great attributes. Yet, as the employment and per capita numbers suggest, they are not helping a lot. Perhaps these whys persist because too many people see it as too painful to look at the problems or they are too complacent with the status quo, or dare we say may benefit financially from having a depressed society.

It is hard to arrive at solutions if you are not seeing the problems.


Over the next two weeks, the Star Beacon is printing a series entitled “Realty Check.” The series examines some of those whys and culminates with some voiced solutions.

This series is the result of months of work — starting in October — by Star Beacon Lifestyle Editor Carl Feather. In putting together the series, Feather interviewed dozens of people at the national, state and local levels. He researched data that compare Ashtabula County to other areas of the state and nation.

The series also offers a reality check into the personal lives of people who are not faring so well in Ashtabula County.

Over this two-week period, beginning today, we are asking you to become active with it. Each day, we will be asking a question regarding this series on our Web-site poll. You also can go to our Web-site forums to discuss the series. Just click at the end of any of the stories as they appear on our Web site and begin your discussion with other readers.

Also, Carl Feather would like to share your personal stories regarding Ashtabula County for possible publication as they relate to “Reality Check.” He can be reached at

By taking a look at the problems, we will see some dreams of what can be in Ashtabula County. As we yearn for those dreams of what can be, we shall look for solutions that will make those dreams a part of Ashtabula County.

Frieder is editor of the Star Beacon and can be reached at