Local photographer Mike Frank captures the former Westinghouse factory building in downtown Mansfield. 

MANSFIELD -- Simply hearing the term Rust Belt is enough to anger folks in this part of the country -- like me.

I'm tired of hearing it. The reference is not subtle. Some have described north central Ohio as the belt buckle of the Rust Belt, old, worn-out, useless, forgotten.

At one time this region powered the nation with its immense industrial might. Our grandparents built the hub of the country.

Yet those days are over. Those jobs are gone. On an intellectual level, we all know that. But this region isn't over, and the people in it can't be forgotten. The energy and spirit haven't died.

Larry Phillips mug shot

Richland Source managing editor Larry Phillips

Instead, climbing out of that Rust Belt stereotype is our task. Resetting the attitude, making a sea-change in the mentality and finding a new way to become valuable are thoughts being pondered in communities throughout the Midwest.

Addressing the struggle of this metamorphosis, from the rearview mirror to tomorrow's windshield, will be the focus of a Richland Source project in 2018.

It begins today, and is titled: Rising from Rust.

Over the course of this year, reporters Tracy Geibel and Brittany Schock will engage with readers, collaborate with other entities and explain some of the most intriguing ideas in a Solutions Journalism project focused on the next economic step for the region. We've got a number of ideas outlined as a starting point, but we're going to go where this story takes us, all of us.

If there's an innovative method in another community with possible ramifications here, we're going to detail it. If another region is tasting success with a fresh concept, we're going to sample it. If another city has found a creative concept, we're going to study it.

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No one is pretending a solution is just around the corner for a 40-year-old problem. But there are approaches being tried, some in their infancy stages, that have dynamic potential. We want to explore some of those notions with impact and raise the level of conversation and ingenuity already in place here.

We will engage with some of the community's up-and-coming leaders who will provide us with their thoughts on a variety of topics. We'll incorporate a regular podcast speaking to those with their eyes on the horizon. We'll also talk to a variety of Richland County students to gauge their attitude as well.

Yesterday's manufacturer has been replaced by tomorrow's technology. What are some of the people, places and paths that are leading to that future? What is already beginning here? What are some ideas that can grow?

We're excited to see what real change is happening, where it's taking place, and if it can be incorporated here. We hope you'll come along for this extended journey we're calling Rising from Rust.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."

I've lived in Richland Co. since 1990, married here, our children were born here. This is home. I have two books published on a passion topic, Ohio high school football. Others: Buckeyes, Cavs, Bengals, Reds, History, Disney.