But nothing happened. And in 2016 Mr. Ledbetter, along with a narrow plurality of voters in Knox, voted for Mr. Trump.
“The one thing he kept keying on was bringing jobs,” he said. “The jobs going away is what tore this county apart. Jobs might bring it back.”
Had anything changed here since 2016? No, he said. Not yet. But it would take time, he said, and the fact that the economy elsewhere, in wealthier places, is doing so well means the benefits would eventually trickle down to here. “They can only build so much,” he said.
Knox County officials say they have stopped looking for deliverance in the landing of a Maytag-size factory, a “moonshot,” and frankly they are a bit tired of hearing about those years. They said the future is in smaller manufacturing companies, new industries and local entrepreneurs, anything that would keep the brightest young people from leaving, as they almost all do. Officials see signs of a turnaround in the flurry of new retail — a Kohl’s, a Love’s travel station, a Kay Jewelers — in the bustling boutique restaurants downtown and, for the first time in many years, in a haul of tax revenues in Galesburg that outpaced city expenses.
“There’ll be a group of people always that want to go back to the good old days of the 1920s or the 1880s or whatever,” said John Pritchard, the mayor of Galesburg, who insists that the Labor Department figures about Knox County are simply wrong. “But the reality is I think most people are feeling better about how things are moving. It’s just a challenge to keep people here.”
Marisa Miller, 23, who plans to be a physician assistant, was sitting in her car in the vast parking lot of the old mall, where the last department store was having an out-of-business sale. Her parents worked at Maytag and her grandparents worked at the Butler factory that closed down in 2005.
“Honestly we’re bringing new places here,” she said of the stores opening in the other parts of town. “But we’re seeing other places leave.”
Ms. Miller said she was not surprised that economic revival had not yet washed over her town. She hadn’t expected Mr. Trump to bring one in the first place, she said. The only thing that had changed since the election seemed to be that certain people around town were angrier. As soon as she can, Ms. Miller said, she plans to leave town herself.