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Economy 4.0

Return to Cuba High

David Brancaccio Dec 20, 2010

Ten years ago, I spent a week in Cuba, Missouri, looking at the impact of globalization on this small town in the ‘middle’ of America.

I visited local businesses, broadcast live from the local truck stop, and on the last day back in 2000, I stopped in at the high school as social studies teacher Marilyn Licklider led students through an exercise in economics.

You can listen to the original story about Cuba High here:


One of the graduates from that class, Cuba High ’01, was a fellow by the name of Mardy Leathers. Today, he’s part of the Cuba Development Group, and he’s working to bring new businesses to his community and to sustain the ones that are already there. Mardy says that the key to Cuba has been the diversification of their industries.

“We don’t have one large employer. We’ve got multiple employers of about 100-150. And they each do a different thing. So that’s exciting because when one area is affected by the economy we don’t completely fall apart… We learned that the hard way in the ’70s when the shoe business fell apart and so did our community.”

While the last 10 years hasn’t seen a hit as big as the ’70s, there has been some upheaval. The Affinia Brake factory, a car brake manufacturer, shut down and moved to Mexico and China. But their old space has since been taken over by Ozark Mountain Technologies, a company that anodizes everything from ammo clips to the aluminum window frames of commercial airplanes.

“It’s been tough,” says Mardy. Although he figures that being a part of rural America, Cuba was “sheltered by the most part from the economic crisis.”

“We didn’t expand at the same level; we didn’t have the same level of irrational exuberance that some of the urban areas had. So we didn’t have as big as a fall.”

Missouri Hick BBQ offered some fine pulled pork out on old route 66. The Wagon Wheel Motel had dramatically upgraded its rooms from ten years ago. Mine featured Marilyn Monroe-inspired, hipster decor. And a couple of miles west of Cuba on Highway 66 was a new attraction entirely: The World’s Biggest Rocker, a chair tall as a four story building.


Well, I was lured out to see it and sure enough the Fanning 66 Outpost was ready to meet my taxidermy, archery, and general merchandise needs.

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