Rust Belt Networking
The Time is Now for Post-Industrial American Cities
The Fabulous Vines Boys
Heading to Buffalo
Buffalo Pundit made a good observation in the "Rust Belt Networking" post:
I think it’s high time that rustbelt cities recognized and tried to learn from each other’s experiences in order that this post-industrial, economically stagnant region might work its way back to viability, if not growth.
But it strikes me that there’s something missing from the GLUE project. Private enterprise. I’m not talking about the traditional Andy-Rudnick-Partnership type businesses. I’m talking about young entrepreneurs who have opened up small businesses in these cities. These are the economic engines of the future, the employers of tomorrow. The GMs and Fords and Bethlehem Steels are either gone or a shadow of their former selves. The region runs thanks mostly to small businesses that offer a needed service at a competitive price. They are just as worthy of celebration and greater-regional networking as are non-profits.
Entrepreneurial networking is exactly what IntoPittsburgh has in mind, but we are focused on the Pittsburgh region and the members of the Burgh Diaspora. However, mega-regional initiatives already exist, such as the Midwest Venture Summit 2008. I'm also encouraged by the dialog I've enjoyed with bloggers on the Cleveland entrepreneurial scene. My sense is that the Cleveburgh Corridor is already more fact than fiction.
The drag on any kind of entrepreneurial mash-up is the proximity problem. Any network will need an established communal connection. I doubt we can engineer a Great Lakes knowledge economy, but regions within this mega-region could functionally benefit from innovation spillovers. As this map suggests, there are coherent economic regions within the Rust Belt. The metals industry links Pittsburgh to Cleveland, including second-tier cities such as Akron, Youngstown, and Wheeling.
Sticking with the outlined borders of this mega-region, I see four other economic areas:
- Automotive (Detroit-Indianapolis)
- Lake Michigan (Chicago-Milwaukee)
- Central Ohio (Columbus-Cincinnati)
- Lower Great Lakes (Buffalo)
Drawing new lines on a map is a contentious exercise, but I think the historical geography would support the coherence of these regions. But there are a few stretches. Were Altoona and Allentown ever part of the Buffalo industrial hinterland? Actually, the weather radio broadcasts I did at Penn State many years ago covered a region that significantly overlapped with Buffalo's traditional sphere of influence. The Susquehanna River Basin might map even a bigger region or perhaps a distinct one from what I call the "Lower Great Lakes."
The above are just a few ideas we could debate concerning the limits of Rust Belt Networking.