This article was originally posted as a Twitter thread by @dougludlow.
- Modesto in California saw an economic boom in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
- But in the 80s, thousands of people lost their jobs when companies moved business overseas, with alcoholism and drug abuse running rife as a result.
- Here, Mainstreet co-founder Doug Ludlow describes his experience living in Modesto and why he started the financing company to create jobs and help local businesses.
A third of the kids I grew up with are dead. A third of them have been, or are currently, in prison. The other third largely live paycheck to paycheck. Stepping out on a limb and sharing something deeply personal here – here’s the unsanitized version of why I co-founded @Mainstreet.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s in Modesto, CA, a mid-sized city in the heart of the Central Valley of California. Modesto has always been primarily agricultural – Gallo Wine, Blue Diamond Almonds, and other food companies are based there. In the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Modesto epitomized America’s post-war economic boom – the population quadrupled during that time. Great jobs were plentiful, even if you had a high school diploma (or not!). Life was, for the most part, good.
George Lucas (another Modesto native) captured the spirit of the city in the 60s in his movie American Graffiti. The movie paints a city with low crime, tight community bonds, and lots of opportunity. That was the Modesto the boomers grew up in. So when hundreds of Modesto men were drafted to witness the horrors of Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, they were able to come back to jobs, and the safety net of a strong community.
It was going to be okay
Then came the 1980s. The 80s brought with it wave after wave of economic devastation to the area. Food processing factories – places like the West Coast Hershey's plant, or Tri-Valley Growers, and dozens like it, were shut down and relocated to Mexico.Thousands of people lost their jobs. Call centers – places like Pacific Bell, AT&T that paid people without college degrees $50K+ in the 80s – were first shipped overseas, and then completely digitized. Hundreds of great jobs were lost.
And finally, virtually all of the local farms, the lifeblood of the Central Valley, were consolidated by large industrial farming conglomerates. This meant that the profit from the land no longer circulated in the community – instead, it went to billionaires in LA & NY.
Our society often talks about this type of economic contraction and collapse in sterile, academic terms. It wasn’t sterile to us. Here’s what I witnessed as a kid during the economic contraction of my city and neighborhood. I grew up in the La Loma neighborhood in Modesto. This was, at the beginning of the 80s, a middle class neighborhood.
By the end of the 80’s - EVERY SINGLE ONE of my friends’ Dads in the neighborhood had lost their jobs. Every single one. These men didn’t have college degrees. Many were Vietnam vets, still haunted by a war that was only a decade in the past at the time. Once they lost their good jobs at the factory, they were never again able to get back on their feet, or find a job that paid as well.
Alcoholism was rampant amongst the Dads of my neighborhood. I’ll always remember coming over to my friends’ Danny and Scotty’s house in the afternoon, to find their Dad nearly passed out on the couch drinking heavily by noon – this happened almost every day. Drug use, suicide, messy divorce, and abuse were common amongst the parents of my friends. Once the fragile economic foundation these men depended on collapsed, their lives were destroyed. Jason’s Dad. Danny’s Dad. Zack’s Dad. Jon’s Dad. Joe’s Dad. The list goes on.
I honestly didn’t really think anything of it at the time. I was a kid – this was our normal. As I got older, I was accepted into the gifted program at a school across town, and quickly started to lose touch with my neighborhood friends. I went to UCLA, married my high school sweetheart, and began my career in tech. I’d still regularly visit family in Modesto, and would occasionally bump in to people from the old neighborhood.
Each year, the updates I’d get on my childhood friends got grimmer and grimmer. It started with kids not making it through high school, or having to enroll in Elliot High School, the alternative to juvenile hall for many kids. A few years later, I’d start hearing about prison – turns out, Danny went to jail for stealing a car to support his meth habit. Modesto was, for a while, the car theft capital of the USA – stealing cars to support a drug habit was insanely common. A few weeks ago, I learned the stunning stat I shared at the beginning... A third of the kids I grew up with are now dead. A third of them have been, or are currently, in prison.The other third largely live paycheck to paycheck.
There are no words for this
The economic contraction of the 80s and 90s in my hometown wasn’t academic to us – literally two generations of people, mostly young men, were completely destroyed as a result. Jobs mean security, pride, and stability – when you have no jobs, you lose your foundation.
For the last decade, I’ve been obsessed with the following, simple question – what could have been done, and what CAN be done, to help Modesto? To help the kids now living in my old neighborhood who deserve their fair chance. The answer is just as simple – GREAT jobs. This is why I co-founded @MainStreet – to help create the jobs that will help restore and stabilize the economies of not only my hometown, but of thousands of hometowns across the world. I’m obsessed with the problem, and amazed by the opportunity in front of us.
I truly believe that if in the 80s and 90s Modesto’s economy – my hometown – had been supported and powered by strong small businesses, that the collapse and contraction wouldn’t have been as painful, as devastating. Many of my childhood friends might still be alive.
If 2020 taught us ANYTHING, it's how vital small businesses are to the economy. Big businesses have the resources they need to survive – small businesses are on their own.This is why @MainStreet exists - to help small businesses get the help & resources they need. I’m devoting the rest of my life to helping to fix the problems my hometown, and our country started to experience in the 80s and 90s, the consequences of which still haunt and affect us today. @MainStreet is my vehicle for doing so.
Why did I co-found @MainStreet? It's to fundamentally reshape the American economy to empower small businesses to lead us through an economic renaissance. One in which EVERYONE gets to participate in, where no one gets left behind. No one.