“No whining, no griping, pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” That’s how Susan Story describes the hard lessons she learned growing up in rural Alabama. Then why is the corporation she leads as chief executive officer, American Water, complaining about opposition to its plans in West Virginia?
The town of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, is a former steel mill town full of struggling residents. With a per capita income of $14,079, Coatesville is situated in wealthy Chester County, but it has struggled amid a declining population and lack of job opportunities. Missoula, Montana, on the other hand, was once a thriving lumber town. Its per capita income of $17,166 means it’s slightly wealthier than Coatesville, and the University of Montana and two hospitals are major employers for the city.
Two thousand, three hundred miles separate Coatesville from Missoula, but the two towns have more in common than you might think. One important similarity? Their ongoing struggles with private, for-profit water companies, like too many cities around the U.S.
Coatesville officials sold the public water utility in 2001, hoping to use the one-time cash infusion to spark an urban renaissance while the privately-run PAWC promised to invest in desperately needed modernization and maintenance.