The inability of most rural places to recover from the economic downturn is fueling political and social problems around the nation.
A blower arches several stories into the sky, spraying enough wood chips to form a small mountain. It’s part of the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in the small Oregon town of Toledo, a hundred miles southwest of Portland. The plant processes wood chips and recycled materials into 2,500 tons of cardboard every day. About 400 people work there, most of them unionized, pumping $42 million annually into the local economy through wages.
The only thing unusual about the mill is that it exists at all. It’s the last paper mill on the Oregon coast, a vestige of a timber industry that was a dominant force in the state just a couple of decades ago. Earlier this year, a paper mill was closed for good in Newberg, which is not far outside of Portland. About 200 workers were eligible for retraining under a federal program that helps people whose jobs were lost due to foreign competition (although the decline in Oregon’s timber industry has as much to do with federal land management policies as overseas competition).
Some residents have grown cynical about efforts to retrofit workers to fit the shifting economy. “The big joke along the coast used to be that the loggers ran