Last morning, as the train passed through Hengelo, I was reminded of Flint, Michigan. Every day I go past the partially demolished factory buildings of Holec. There are a lot of differences, of course, but some of the similarities are striking. General Motors closed factory after factory in the eighties, while Enschede and Hengelo had to deal with the collapse of the textile industry in the sixties and seventies.

The reason that I know of Flint, Michigan at all is Michael Moore. Late in the eighties he filmed Roger & Me, a documentary about the demise of GM in Flint. Back then he was wondering why GM was closing perfectly functioning factories. Almost twenty years later we do know why. Despite of the desperate measures they took, GM is a shell of it’s former self and on the verge of bankrupt. As is Flint, Michigan.

Here in the east of the Netherlands, the same could have happened, but it hasn’t. I am not sure wat made the difference, but I will try to guess none the less.

The most discerning differences are:

  • Distances are shorter; it it easier to find work relatively near
  • Public education is the norm and of a decent level. A university in town might help as well
  • Better state support if people reach rock bottom, especially in those days (it’s grown worse in the past decades)
  • Flint tried to get to it’s feet by starting prestigious projects that cost a lot, but had no effect, at least partly because it is in the middle of nowhere.
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