Monday, January 07, 2008

Rust Belt 2.0: Chattanooga

I decided to add another post tag, RustBelt2.0. For purposes of collaboration and benchmarking, Rust Belt economic development news is of increasing interest to the Burgh Diaspora blog. Today, the TechFutures Blog looks at a relative Rust Belt success story in Chattanooga:

The similarities between Chattanooga and Cleveland are pretty significant. Both were manufacturing cities that saw their industries and populations decline. Brain drain became a serious issue in each place. Both have industrial, working rivers that also serve recreational users along certain stretches. And both are surrounded by wonderful parks and natural recreational amenities that attract significant numbers of visitors annually.

But while Chattanooga has built something of a reputation for itself as a clean community, the outside perception of Cleveland is pretty much a blank slate at this point. Outside Magazine called Chattanooga a “Top Ten Dream Town.” I’m not sure anyone from Outside Magazine even knows where Cleveland is. The Financial Times of London—long a favorite paper of TechFutures—had this to say back in 2004:

"Why has Chattanooga succeeded in its revitalization while other midsize manufacturing towns in the midwest and northeast are stagnating or deteriorating? Its principle advantage is an activist citizenry. Community leaders have learnt to harness this through a process called 'visioning' and 'the Chattanooga Way'... Public-private partnerships have swiftly implemented the visions. Community power has been harnessed to give Chattanooga a role in building 21st century manufacturing."

TechFutures promises a series of posts exploring what Chattanooga can teach Cleveland. I'm curious about the process of community knowledge transfer. How does someone translate success in one place to a change of fortune in a struggling shrinking city? Pittsburgh (along with a number of other cities) is currently attempting to copy The Kalamazoo Promise. I am concerned that there are significant pitfalls to copying the policy working in another city. Putting on my geographer hat, I figure we should be looking at how unique context variables lend themselves to positive results.

I've visted the difficulty in replicating Silicon Valley innovation. The take-away from that story is that each region should leverage its own unique assets for the purposes of developing a comparative advantage. However, I do think that Cleveland can learn from Chattanooga, but NEO must find its own way.

No comments: