Saturday, March 20, 2010

Economic Redevelopment Geography

Today, I want to dig a little deeper into the "Two Rust Belts". An article about the divergent fates of Madison and Milwaukee in Wisconsin sums up the disparity nicely:

“With the presence of the State Capitol, the UW and other government entities, relatively speaking Madison is weathering the recession better than many other regions,” says Tim Cooley, the city’s economic development director.

Indeed, the 20 cities surviving the best read like a list of college and government towns: Austin, Texas; Jackson, Miss.; Syracuse, N.Y.; and Baton Rouge, La., among others.

Compare that to Milwaukee, which Brookings lumps in with the decimated economies of Cleveland, Detroit and Youngstown, Ohio.

Government and gowns make for a winning combination, suggesting that policy has little to do with economic outcomes. I'm reminded of the tale about Boulder and Pueblo in Colorado. One city would get a prison and the other a state university. Both wanted the prison. Pueblo landed the deal and the rest is history. Unwittingly, Boulder got the better end of the bargain.

That's something to keep in mind as both Milwaukee and Detroit look to Pittsburgh as a model of redevelopment. The Steel City is now a college town. That's likely bad news for Detroit. Michigan already has two strong innovation engines in Lansing and Ann Arbor, which is where the investment should go. As for Milwaukee, I could see that place becoming a great student hub.

Lastly, I'll reiterate the competition geography. From the Greater Ohio Policy Center:

The next economy is not about competition between Cleveland and Cincinnati, or even with Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, but about Ohio positioning itself to compete with Shanghai and Mumbai. We lay out several arguments for why we have the potential to compete and what needs to be done to fulfill Ohio's promise.

If Cleveland tries to compete against Pittsburgh, then it will lose. Sorry, Drew Carey. The winning part of the Rust Belt already has a global orientation. The universities and centers of government attract talent from everywhere. However, that parochial mindset is hard to shake. Carin Rockland of Team NEO is indicative of the defeatist attitude that holds sway in Cleveland. Stealing business from Rust Belt neighbors is a tragedy of the commons.

1 comment:

John Morris said...

Talent or people looking for a government check? The last place to go down in any third world state is the capital.

Ultimately that is the critical measure. If the state as a whole and the universities are not spinning off enough private sector enterprise you have a zero sum game and and cuts to the universities are inevitable.

Call me when the overall economy shows actual sustainable growth and it centers around the places you mention.