A hat-tip to planner for the city of Hoquiam, Wash, (and eagle-eyed Sightline Daily reader), for steering me to a great piece in Mother Jones. For its Earth Day “green” issue, the magazine featured Hoquiam and neighboring Aberdeen in an article detailing how green-collar opportunities are recharging rural America.

Rewind to 1992, when Aberdeen’s most famous sons—Kurt Cobain and Krist Noveselic—had just hit the grunge jackpot. At the same time, the town was hemorrhaging jobs. Mother Jones tells it like this: “Families were breaking up and moving out. There were suicides. It was really a hard time.” 

Like other struggling small towns, the fallout for Hoquiam, Aberdeen and neighboring communities in Grays Harbor County has not been limited to empty pocketbooks and emotional stress. With poverty comes poor food choices, too, which lead to obesity and health problems.

According to a Harvard/UW study released last week, Grays Harbor and four other Washington counties are exemplifying another new trend in small-town America: life expectancy is declining among the rural poor. “It is what you would expect to see in a developing country, not here,” Dr. Majid Ezzati, a Harvard professor and lead author of the study told the Seattle P-I.  

But Grays Harbor’s economy is on the up. According to Mother Jones, Hoquiam’s old mill is now producing 100 percent recycled paper. The plant’s energy source is 100 percent renewable—it comes from biomass derived from a local source—Olympic Peninsula logging leftovers.

The local government is an enthusiastic supporter of the business. Today, the Aberdeen Daily World reports that the city of Hoquiam will start buying all its office paper from the mill. The city of Seattle is on board too. Grays Harbor Paper is now the largest employer in town with about 250 on staff.  

Grays Harbor County is finding opportunity, acting local, conserving energy, and saving money. Local governments and businesses are working together. It looks like the green-collar strategy is taking root. Hopefully, a healthy economy will nourish a healthier community too.