What's This All About?
By John Terry
Sole Proprietor, Nash Creek Industries
I work with start-ups and growing companies that need help with their written communications. From my base in Orlando, I help starters, dreamers, and random hippies who want to carve their own way outside of the corporate 9 to 5.
A lot of my clients are in Central Florida. But I have a special connection with entrepreneurs who are trying to build a sustainable economy in places where things went to shit after factories started closing a couple decades ago. The resurgence is happening in places such as Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Flint, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Durham, St. Louis, Birmingham, and of course – Detroit.
I want to contribute to that renaissance.
Shift Work and Time-and-a-Half
I grew up in Michigan when the auto industry was still going strong. Lots of factories and warehouses. Old brick buildings with huge smokestacks. Detroit was the hub of all the manufacturing and assembly. But factories and shops across the mitten supported the industry.
On the west side of the state, in Grand Rapids, the Fisher Body Plant stamped out parts for GM. The Reynolds Metals extrusion plant made bumpers. My brother, Jeff, went to work at Reynolds after graduating from high school. Because that's what you did. Show up on time, do a good job, and keep your nose clean. You'd have employment for life with great benefits. Not too shabby.
There was even a factory in Sparta. I guess it had a name, but I never knew it. Everyone called it "the foundry" or "the piston ring factory."
I didn't know what piston rings were back then. Hell, I'd have a hard time explaining it now. But I could hold my own in a bar conversation about them.
They don't make piston rings in Sparta anymore since the foundry shut down. GM stopped stamping parts in Grand Rapids. And Reynolds hasn't produced bumpers there since the '80s. So my brother didn't have a job for life. When the Steel Belt turned into the Rust Belt, the American dream turned into a nightmare for a lot of people.
Industrial Revolution 2.0 in the Midwest
The factory jobs went away. It sucks. I'm empathetic. Those locked gates and boarded-up buildings hurt my family, my friends, and my town.
I can't help bring those jobs back. But I can help propel the new wave of industry. Chris Olsen, the co-founder of Drive Capital, wrote on "VentureBeat" that today's entrepreneurs are building more billion-dollar companies in the Midwest than in the last 50 years combined. Olsen said the raw ingredients for bold, ambitious new companies were more plentiful in the Heartland than in Silicon Valley. California is the eighth largest economy in the world. The Midwest is the fifth.
As the new tech economy cranks up, entrepreneurs and start-ups need help communicating with their customers. That's where I come in.
After working in radio, print, and online publishing earlier in my career, I spent a dozen years with a technology start-up. Google acquired that company. Before you ask — no, it didn't make me rich. But the combination of my media and tech experience gave me a unique set of skills. I'm not good at much, but I'm damn good at helping companies tell their story to the outside world. If I can use my tiny sliver of skill to help a business grow, then I'm a happy guy.
I have a theory that to be great, a city needs a river. Bays, harbors, and big lakes are cool. But there's something special about a river. I owe my fascination with rivers to reading "Huckleberry Finn" when I was 7 years old. After that, floating down the Mississippi River on a raft seemed like the only reasonable way to spend my life. But unlike ol' Huck, I never could manage to build a decent raft out of fallen trees.
If a great city needs a river, then a great small town needs a creek. Or a stream. Take your pick. I'm not going to fight you over it. We're not savages.
Sparta, Michigan, has Nash Creek.
Nash Creek flows into Sparta on the west side of town. It runs under Sparta Avenue north of the bowling alley. The creek meanders through Rogers Park, behind the library, and along Balyeat Field next to the stoner parking lot. It empties into the Rogue River on the east side of Sparta. Then the Rogue joins the Grand River, which in turn flows into Lake Michigan.
Water passing through Sparta can end up in Chicago or Milwaukee. That blows my mind.
It was impossible for me to get much of anywhere without crossing Nash Creek when I was a kid. I crossed it thousands of times going downtown to buy little green army men at the Ben Franklin or a donut at the bakery. I crossed Nash Creek when I went to school and church.
My first job was delivering "The Sparta Reminder" on Wednesday afternoons. Randy Gerard and I would roll our newspapers and slip a rubber band around each one in the back of his dad's newspaper shop. I loaded my little red wagon and hauled it back and forth over the bridges while I made my rounds. In high school, I crossed the creek to go to my job at Emmons Supermarket.
I crossed it on foot and on my bike. In my mom's Delta 88, and in the beat-to-hell Dodge pickup my dad drove into town on Saturdays when he needed the things dads haul in old pickup trucks.
Nash Creek is the perfect icon of hard work, hope, and home. I want that vibe to flow into every client I work with.