Sign up for Heartland Intelligence, my monthly newsletter on what’s happening in America’s midsection.
John Austin at the Michigan Economic Center is a long time commentator on Midwest economic issues, going back to at least his 2006 Brookings Institute report “The Vital Center.”
Austin is back with a new report, which could perhaps be seen as an update of sorts, called “A Vital Midwest: The Path to a New Prosperity,” released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
In a region with a lot of naysayers, Austin has been a consistently optimistic voice about the future of the region. This report continues in that tradition. I think he always does a great job of identifying and highlighting the assets that are present in the region.
A lot has changed since the Midwest served as the birthing ground of the great industries—processed food, retail commerce, aviation, cars, chemicals, steel, electronics, machinery, consumer
durables, and many more—that powered 20th-century America.
Much has also changed since a generation ago, when globalization and new industrial rivals diminished the region’s economic primacy, shuttered hometown employers’ doors, and left many communities struggling. This collective transition earned the region its “Rust Belt” moniker.
Over recent years, the forces of technological disruption, new lifestyle and work preferences of young and mobile talent, changing demographics, and media in an increasingly wired world have continued to alter the dynamics of the global marketplace, the shape of communities, and the economic position and possibilities for the residents of the region.
Today the Midwest is neither an economic monolith nor, despite lingering popular misconceptions, a “Rust Belt.” Many Midwest communities, large and small, have successfully evolved from their industrial and farming roots and are winning in today’s globalized, tech-based, and knowledge-driven economy. Most of the region’s major metros—from the Twin Cities in the west to Indianapolis at the nation’s crossroads to Pittsburgh in the east—are diverse, thriving hothouses of knowledge work.
What’s more, all of the communities anchored by one of the region’s numerous top-flight research universities (such as Iowa City, Ann Arbor, and State College) are thriving in an economic era in which talent and innovation dominate.
Many other Midwest communities that are neither major metros nor home to top research universities have also found paths to new success by embracing the forces of economic change and building on their particular assets to create a new era of economic vitality.
These include cities such as Columbus, Indiana; Midland, Michigan; and Rochester, Minnesota—cities that are thriving as their anchor employers stay on the cutting edge of innovation in emerging sectors.
Click over to read the whole thing.