09:05 AM

Glass House author discusses decline of small towns with students and faculty

A new book on the decline of small towns in America was at the heart of a discussion hosted by The Ohio State University Department of Sociology Thursday night.

Brian Alexander, a reporter and writer who has worked for NBC News and Wired magazine, is the author of the new book Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town. A native of Lancaster, Ohio, he writes about the struggles of his home town following the decline of the Anchor Hocking Glass Company.

Kristi Williams, professor of sociology, introduced Alexander to a packed theater of students, faculty and guests. She said journalists like Alexander often take their research and help present it to a broader audience.

Alexander explained that historically, Lancaster was a boom town with a Fortune 500 company at its heart.

“At one point in this country, if you drove an automobile, there was a good chance that the headlight or taillight cover was made in Lancaster, Ohio” Alexander said.

Alexander discussed how that changed with the rise of what he called pirate capitalism.

“We begin to have the financialization of the American economy,” he said.

Alexander is critical of private equity investors who purchase manufacturing companies like the glass makers in Lancaster, not for the purposes of running them, but with the goal raiding their profits and then selling them off. Despite the effort of community leaders to keep Anchor Hocking afloat, it struggled financially.

“The interests of the owners of the company and town or the state are not necessarily aligned,” he said.

Alexander says the story of the manufacturing decline in Lancaster is mirrored in small towns across the country. When plants closed and good paying jobs dried up, poverty and substance abuse increased, he said.

Benjamin Howes, a Lancaster native who attended the discussion, agreed with Alexander on the underlying issues that caused Anchor Hocking to struggle.

“I think the number one issue threatening our democracy is corporations buying our politicians,” Howes said. He said he saw first-hand how the struggles of manufacturing companies impacted his community.

Alexander says despite the struggles of Lancaster, people in the community continue to invest in the town and he said signs of progress are noticeable.