Saturday, April 12, 2008

Globalization Tales: Holland, MI

The tale is of two communities: Holland and Greenville. Globalization hasn't been all bad for Michigan, but the balance is decidedly destructive without enough replacement jobs. I would understand someone reading this article and concluding that Holland and Greenville are competing with each other for foreign investment, but I don't think that is the case. The real problem is that there doesn't seem to be enough crumbs to go around. The geographic variation of economic development is astounding:

As foreign buyers descend upon the United States, capturing widening swaths of the industrial landscape and putting millions of Americans to work for new owners, these two cities offer sharply competing narratives for a nation still uneasy about being on the selling end of the global economy.

And with the dollar losing much value in recent years, the pace is picking up again, as some of the country's most valuable assets go on the block at bargain-basement prices.

For many communities, like Holland, Michigan, the consequences include new jobs at decent pay, fresh capital to finance expansion and links to markets around the globe.

Yet many others, like Greenville, are suffering from being branded redundant by huge enterprises with factories around the world.

To travel Michigan today is to experience America's often ambivalent relationship with the global economy.

Globalization is notoriously uneven, somewhat confounding regional initiatives. Buying into the Great Lakes Union might help, but there are no guarantees. So, when boom goes bust, the mega-region might fall apart. Frequent political mood swings will make GLEI difficult, if not impossible.

That's why I'm skeptical of top-down solutions. I think they are unsustainable. Any collaboration will result in a fragile compromise, which the Greenvilles of mega-region will attack. The fact is that a large number of postindustrial communities will fail to make the economic transition. No politician will want to be associated with this bad news.

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