Friday, July 11, 2008

Rust Belt Cities Lack Will to Succeed

I asked Richard Herman for permission to post an e-mail message he sent to me:

Trying to maintain the infrastructure (political, housing, roads, etc.) built for 1,000,000, for a population that will soon be below 400,000, using old models, ain't working.

Aren't there just 2 basic options:

1.) Don't fight the shrinkage ----- get small smarter (consolidation of resources, strategic management of downsizing---e.g, youngstown)

2.) Channel aggressive growth strategies (immigration, game-changing fed legislation, etc.)

Or perhaps a combination of the two.


Instead, what we see are deer-in-the-headlight responses by rustbelt leadership (neither smart/managed downsizing, nor smart/aggressive growth strategies).

Rustbelt cities: These former economic powerhouses, roaring lions hideously morphed into timid mice, slump back into their easy chairs and BEGIN conventional economic development in building a knowledge-based economy (invest in education, invest in high-tech, etc.) --- a strategy that is necessary but is too little, too late. These are long-term strategies (20+ years), which have been employed by competing cities in the U.S. for decades.

Rustbelters have forgotten the meaning of "first mover advantage."

In defeat, and afraid to compete globally (immigrant talent---bad, free trade ---- bad, foreign direct investment --- bad), the rustbelt is largely devoid of any global engagement strategies for growth (there is opportunity in them thar hills over yonder).

It is not likely that any of our rustbelt leadership has read Dick Longworth's new book ("Caught in the Middle"), nor the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's call to action on global engagement.

In fact, it's not likely much of our leadership reads at all, travels outside their time zone, glanced at how the rest of the world deals with change, etc......

We have the tools to win. We just do not have the will.


The Urbanophile said...

What disturbs me most is the state of denial most of these places are in. Over at, the Cleveland crew is saying to challenge the Census, that Cleveland is undercounted by 100,000. That's the same strategy used by Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Detroit.

To me, it is a sign that these places have not come to terms with what has happened to them. They'd rather argue the facts and engage in pointless Census challenges than to build the future of their city.

Jim Russell said...

I harbor a similar concern. The bulk of the energy is spent trying to change the perception of Rust Belt cities instead of actually improving the economy and infrastructure. This Band-Aid approach says to me that the leadership does indeed lack the will (ability?) to address the most glaring problems.

There is plenty to appreciate in any Rust Belt city. Unfortunately, those assets seem to be good enough for most residents.