‘It’s hard to see the future with tears in your eyes.’ This Native American proverb poignantly characterized many of the residents of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin after the town’s largest employer was purchased by an international company and 500 jobs were lost, resulting in a 40 per cent reduction in employment. However, with support from the local community foundation and an innovative approach to training community leaders, anger and despondency has begun to turn into something more positive.
At a time of serious decline in the cranberry industry, the region’s second largest employer, the losses unleashed a range of emotions – anxiety, fear, anger, sadness – and exposed the community’s historical insularity and dependency. A belief that the Paper Company would always exist had lulled people into a false sense of security. The pain and grief were evident in increasingly hostile public debates, personal attacks on public leaders, distortion of facts, gossip and, in some instances, scapegoating. As one of the previous owners of the Paper Company said, ‘I can’t bear to read the headlines any more.’