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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Potlatch, Idaho : a case study of a single-industry town and the factors which affect its development Loeb, Emily A.


Potlatch is a town reminiscent of many single-industry towns. Created by the Weyerhaeuser syndicate in 1905, the town experienced significant changes throughout the twentieth century. In 1952, Potlatch transformed from being a company town into an incorporated town in Idaho. In 1983, the town's main employer, the Potlatch Corporation, closed its mill and since that time the town has changed from a mill town to a bedroom community. For the last twenty years, Potlatchites have been adjusting to this new economy and community identity. Using ethnographic and qualitative research, this thesis shows that Potlatch has been able to survive as a community, not a timber community. By analyzing the community's history, placing the town and its development in a larger social context, and identifying the factors which influence the community's response to mill closure, we can understand why this community has been able to survive, yet not thrive, post mill closure. Five factors were determined to affect Potlatch's response to mill closure. The factors are external and internal perceptions of the town, the citizen's social roles, regional politics and behavior, the community's history, and the town's geographical context. In this analysis ethnographic research and economic, geographical, and sociological theories are synthesized to show how one town represents theories of economic and social development. This thesis is not a blue print which can be applied to other communities to better comprehend how a particular place has or will respond to social and economic change. Rather, this thesis shows that a micro lens is required to understand the effects industrial closure has on a particular town. Potlatch is used as a case study to explain why one community has been able to survive despite the fact that it appears it should fail. Using this case study, in combination with other case studies, can help theorists understand why some communities succeed and others fail after industry abandonment. In so doing, the many towns currently facing industry closure can be more prepared and understand what they need to do in order to respond in a proactive and productive way to industry restructuring and closure.

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