Friday, January 22, 2010

Ruhr Valley Of The Rust Belt

Comparing Germany's Ruhr Valley to the Rust Belt is old hat. These two regions jump to the fore when we discuss industrial decline in Germany and the United States. However, the analogy is still instructive as we struggle to find a functional contiguous geography that might lend itself revitalization:

Germans often think of the region as a single entity, and taken together, it would in fact be the country's biggest city, with more than 5 million inhabitants. But the valley has less the feel of a city than a small, densely populated island: In some areas of the region, cities bleed into each other, while in other places there are wide stretches of agriculture that act as buffers between municipalities. Residents often have attachments to their local towns and develop rivalries against their neighbors. “When there's a soccer game between Dortmund and Bochum, you should probably stay off the local trains,” Willi Kaiser, a resident of Essen, said.

The homogeneity of the Rust Belt is a myth. Richard Longworth's struggles to delimit the Midwest for his book "Caught in the Middle" help to reveal the sub-regions of the US geography that globalization left behind. Plopping down the Ruhr Valley anywhere within Longworth's Midwest won't work. It fits best over the Metals axis of Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Chris Briem has often compared Pittsburgh to Duisburg. But Americans don't think of "Cleveburgh" as a single entity. We should for the sake of economic redevelopment. The broad brush of the term "Rust Belt" belies the geographic diversity within the megaregion.

The Ruhr Valley is the TechBelt. I literally just noticed that the TechBelt website has been redone. It looks great! The history narrative could easily apply to the Ruhr Valley:

The TechBelt story over the past decade is one of profound economic reality on one hand and visionary leadership on the other. The region demonstrates a strong concentration of manufacturing employment that over the past few years has felt the continued transition of the U.S. economy. This transition has been painful to many of the communities throughout the region as anchor employers close their doors and jobs are lost.

There are still many however who view this transformation as an opportunity that through ingenuity and investment new opportunities are being created. For many years, this mega-region, has been working diligently to transition its economies toward more technology-based opportunities to ensure a bright future as it relates to job growth, per capita income and other measures.

Ohio and Pennsylvania governments have led the country with the creation of initiatives to support communities going through economic transformation. The Ohio Third Frontier initiative and Pennsylvania Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority have committed over $600 million to TBED activity in the region. These investments have created and continue to support programs, research, technology infrastructure and opportunities for the region to expand the strength and sheer number of technology based economic opportunities. The global economy is experiencing the most significant turbulence in a generation, which is likely to have profound impacts for regions throughout the U.S. The TechBelt region has survived this kind of turmoil in the past and now has the experience and the infrastructure to adapt to a changing economy. Regional leaders are optimistic that the investments that have been made, and the collaboration represented by TechBelt will enable the region to weather the storm and continue to transform. More must be done however to build on state and regional investments and attract federal and external capital to accelerate the pace of change.

The TechBelt Initiative unites the assets that have been created in the TechBelt communities and demonstrates the strength in numbers.

Perusing the committee members, I notice that the Power of 32 is conspicuously absent.

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