Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rust Belt Belgium

Rust Belt cities have more in common than they have differences. I find most claims of regional exceptionalism (good or bad) to be dubious. The same stories pop up all over the globe, suggesting that the industrial legacy is to blame for most of the current problems. Despite all the concern about brain drain, Rust Belt residents are remarkably rooted, even in Belgium:

Wallonia's economy may not be the basket case many think it is, but it still has a long way to go.

The region still lags behind Flanders by almost every measure - productivity, exports, income, etc.

Most painfully, unemployment tops 17% - while the Flemish have labour shortages. "Walloons have problems travelling a few dozen kilometres to find jobs in Flanders," Olivier Chastel says.

While the geographic mobility of labor is poor in most of Europe (at least, compared to the United States), Rust Belt Walloons are particularly "stuck". I suspect that something similar is going on in Pittsburgh, which helps to explain the low wages and the resistance to outside influences that has frustrated the likes of Mike Madison.

Revisiting an article I blogged about earlier today, India is a good example of how to deal with parochial impasse and a shortage of talent. Companies thriving today do not point to regional leadership or government stewardship as the reason for success. Returnees found ways around the political barriers and lack of local support. Wallonia and Pittsburgh should take a few pages from this book.

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