One a mighty manufacturing centre, the economy of Brantford was crippled more than twenty years ago and the city is still fighting to recover.

A large number of the city's residents are also struggling to find stable work, but there is hope for the community.

The city's founders envisioned a prosperous business future, primarily due to its perfect position between Toronto and the U.S. border.

David Neumann, a former mayor and councillor, says "Brantford was a pretty well-established city. More than 200 manufacturing industries and people were used to relying on some of the well-paying jobs that were around."

Manufacturing, especially of farm equipment, was Brantford's focus.

But the recession of the 1980s, fueled by rising interest rates as well as falling wheat prices worldwide took their toll.

Neumann says "Brantford's key industries were hit hard. Massey-Ferguson, White Farm, we had 5,000 of our best-paid employees at that time whose industries got hit."

The evidence of the decline remains in the city's massive Greenwich-Mohawk Brownfield Project, a location once home to giants like Verity the Cockshutt Plow Company.

Neumann was mayor during the city's collapse, and the memories are still fresh for him.

"Ugh, always in the media eye. The media tended to want to cover anything bad that happened," he says.

Through the 1980s and 1990s Brantford's economy was in steady decline, eventually hitting an unemployment rate of 14 per cent in 1993.

Store owner Robert Trickett is one of many affected by that recession. He ran his own business at the time and is still troubled but the hardship his employees faced.

"Obviously if you're laid off from your job and you're just doing something part-time, you get discouraged rather easily. And for us, we didn't offer benefits or anything, so it was really tough for anybody if they had a family."

Eventually Trickett had to shut down too, but he's now rebuilding and runs an outlet store in downtown Brantford.

Still, it's not easy he says, "Sometimes there are days you wish you could just go home, and other days you're glad that you came."

Trickett is still hopeful about the city's future, and is motivated to keep his products priced low, since he knows what his customers have lived through.

"I don't have the answers for the world. I can't create jobs, and I can't help everyone, but I'll do the best to help the people that are around here."

And that may be the attitude that helps Brantford come back from a tough past.

Coming up in part two: The issues that are slowing development in Brantford and how the city is trying to break the negative stigma about the community.