An Unlikely Revitalization In One Midwestern Town

The complex rebirth of Beloit, Wisconsin

Beloit, Wisconsin
Beloit Ironworks, as seen from the river.
Kyle Rosenberg/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / June 16, 2019 2:08 pm

It’s a familiar story: a once-prosperous industrial town that’s fallen on hard times, its future uncertain. That certainly seemed to be the case with Beloit, Wisconsin, a town with a population of just under 40,000 residents.

Then, Beloit found an unexpected benefactor.

Diane Hendricks is the wealthy chair of ABC Supply Co., which is based in Beloit. She and her late husband have been directly involved in sparking a revival of the town’s fortunes for decades — including turning a foundry, empty since the company based there went out of business, into a technology hub and hotel.

Alexandra Stevenson, who wrote about Beloit in 2017 for the New York Times, talked with Vox’s Future Perfect podcast about Hendricks and Beloit. Stevenson has a family connection to the town: her mother was raised there, and her uncle lives nearby — which is how she learned of the town’s revival.

Hendricks has been involved with buying property in Beloit since 1975, and over the years she has made significant changes to the town’s geography — a process that Stevenson likened to playing a game of Sim City.

This process has changed Beloit’s fortunes for the better, and reaction to those changes are something that, as Stevenson put it, “kind of cut across the political spectrum.” While Hendricks has donated to the likes of former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, her work in Beloit has endeared her to residents of all political backgrounds.

Anybody I spoke to, whether they identified as Democrat or Republican, all felt the same way: that it was a huge deal that Diane had put so much money and time and effort into making Beloit a place that mattered, because for so long, Beloit didn’t matter to anyone.

Some of this may also be due to the work being in done in Beloit now: Hendricks is known for anti-union politics, but — as Stevenson notes — many of the people she spoke were not directly involved with unions or unionization efforts.

The full episode of Future Perfect explores Hendricks’s effect on Beloit, and on Wisconsin politics as a whole, in much greater detail. It’s a complex look at a complicated dynamic — and one that addresses a number of concerns in contemporary America.

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