Sunday, 18 March 2012

Going to America?

When I was growing up my Dad used to play lots of the same music in the car when we were driving anywhere.  The smell of Polos and certain tracks have an amazing ability to transport me back in an instant to 1989 and a trip to the Purley Way retail park.  One of those songs is 'America' by Neil Diamond.

I'd like to pretend that this youthful exposure to those lyrics is what's prompting me to consider the trip to America that this blog is going to be about.  But in reality it's more about the fact that I'm turning 30 this year and I'm becoming increasingly concerned about that milestone.

Early mid-life crisis apart, I am planning a trip to America to see some of the cities of that great country that I've never been to.  In order to support this I'm in the process of applying to the Nottinghamshire Roosevelt Travelling Scholarship for their 2012 awards.

This scheme offers a cash award to support a piece of field based research in the States to celebrate the links between America and Nottingham and to further promote Nottingham and Nottinghamshire over there.  You have to submit a research proposal which you'll use the time overseas to study and develop. 

The (probably over-long) title of my project is: "The Modern Company Town: How America's Cities and Large Employers are Engaging with Recession – And What Nottingham Can Learn From Them".  When I first moved to Nottingham to start work at Boots Head Office I had a lot of friends in West Bridgford and soon came to understand why they call it West Boots-ford: seeing colleagues from work on the high-street on Saturday morning after a hard Friday night wasn't always the most pleasant of experiences and it set me off thinking about working and living in a place where there is just one major employer in an area.

Now Nottingham isn't even a particularly extreme example of this sort of 'Company Town' - there is quite a high diversity of employers as shown here (PDF) but there are times where it feels like it's impossible to escape the company's impact on the City: from the founding of the University to the sensory garden at Wollaton Park to the possibility of the new Enterprise Zone the city's fortunes are closely intertwined with those of the company.

I'm really intrigued by true Company Towns that are quite common in America: places like Hershey in Pennsylvania, Cupertino in California (home of Apple) and Bentonville in Arkansas (the place WalMart calls home).

How have these cities been shaped and created (often literally from nothing in the case of places like Boulder City in Nevada) by their major employers and how has the city impacted back on the company?  What challenges has the current recession caused?  How have big cities coped with the sudden loss of an employer (like in Detroit)?  What techniques have large employers and the cities that they are based in used to cope with the recession - how have they differed across America and compared with Nottingham?

So, the application form went in the other week and I've just had notification that I'm through to the next round which is an informal 20 minute interview.  That is in a couple of weeks.  After that it's a more formal interview to select the final recipient(s) of the award.

If I'm successful I'll probably be going either some time in the Summer or Autumn, depending on when it best fits into when work will be able to release me on unpaid leave.

I'll be using this blog to update on the research and application stage and, if I'm successful, updates on the road during my trip. 

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