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The Start of Our Story

The People Project evolved from a grassroots initiative to save jobs. In November 2015, ALCOA, the aluminum manufacturing company and major area employer, announced it was closing the local plant—a devastating move for the St. Lawrence County economy. The leaders and members of local education unions took action to help save the jobs of the ALCOA workers. Working closely with United Steelworkers Local 420, they brought together the workers, families and business and government leaders—all people impacted by the closing.

A “People over Profit” rally brought out thousands to show support for the ALCOA workers and call on the company to keep its promises to its workers and the community.

Many jobs were saved when ALCOA management dropped its plan to shut down operations in Massena.

Leaders of the local education unions saw value in keeping the coalition alive so it could tackle other needs in St. Lawrence County and improve life for students and residents.

Teachers then researched examples of broad-based community engagement with track records of affecting positive change. They were inspired by an ambitious multi-year project in McDowell County, West Virginia.

McDowell County, like the North Country, is a mountainous area isolated from other employment centers and from full access to cutting edge technology. The local economy is dependent on coal mining. But the industry is in decline, taking many jobs with it and making McDowell County one of the poorest in the country.

Educators, backed by the State Board of Education and the American Federation of Teachers, launched an ambitious initiative—Reconnecting McDowell—to strengthen public education and the county’s economy. The coalition is revitalizing the region by turning area public schools into community hubs and supporting economic revitalization through public education. This public-private partnership began with more than 40 partners. Now it has 125 and more than $17 million in funding.

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