Our new friend mentioned the I-70 bio-tech corridor from Washington, DC to Gaithersburg and Frederick, Maryland. It is a center of the “bio- tech” industry — very near the source of its funding, regulators, and market, in Bethesda.
You drive up towards Frederick. You pass shiny new buildings. Whole new suburbs. Bright foreign-made cars full of people who look like they might be Pakistanis, with PhDs in molecular science.
But keep going and the world changes. Once you pass by Hagerstown you are out of commuting range. Soon, you are in what could be the ‘real’ America. People drive pick-up trucks. There are few new houses. Few fancy restaurants. In fact, there may not be a single one between Hagerstown and Pittsburgh.
Some of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s mill towns are practically zombietowns. We used to visit Charleroi as a child, because our father’s brother lived there. That was in the 1950s and early ’60s. Coming from the Maryland tobacco fields, it seemed as if we had entered into the hub of sophisticated urban life. There were shops, bars, movie theatres. There were young people on the streets. Children playing in the alleys. There was music coming out of open windows…union hall dances…bars on practically every street corner…diners…new cars… And the place hummed to the rhythm of the steel mill by the river.
Today, everything has changed. We went up last week for our aunt’s funeral. The steel mills have shut down. Production has long since moved to Korea, India…the countries where the bio-tech engineers come from. We heard no whistles calling the workers to their posts. We saw no houses that looked as though they had been built in the last 4 decades. We saw no children. We saw almost no people at all, save those using walkers and canes.
The only industries seemed to cater to zombies.
“Did your doctor miss your cancer?” asked one billboard for a shyster lawyer.
“Injured on the job?” asked another…which seemed like an unlikely thing. We’d be surprised if anyone in town had a job.
It looked as though government spending had misallocated resources to the town, in an effort to make it appear that it wasn’t dead. A central pedestrian street had been tarted up. But there were no pedestrians. A modernesque building houses a local “development” authority, but there was no development to authorize.
You need a cheap place to live, dear reader? One house had a hand- painted sign on the door:
“House for sale. $1,000 down. $346 a month.”
How about that? You could buy the house next to it too…and open a Cappucino Bar. Don’t bother with the free Wi-Fi. Or the cappuccino for that matter.
We wondered: will the bio-tech corridor someday pack up and move to India too? Then, will Gaithersburg be as derelict as Charleroi?
for The Daily Reckoning Australia