Saturday, June 04, 2011

Rust Belt Recovery

Economic development professional Ed Morrison is trying to breathe new life into Great Lakes Nation. He weaves into his narrative some history that would serve as a foundation for a megaregional identity. The goal is to give the "Rust Belt" an image makeover. The geographic abstraction still has a ton of currency:

Jeffrey Bergstrand, a finance professor at the University of Notre Dame, doubts a new wave of jobs will emerge.

"We're in this jobless recovery," Bergstrand said. "The Rust Belt is more sensitive. Where you have more of a manufacturing base, it has a bigger impact."

Sure, in some places the Rust Belt is indeed more sensitive. In terms of the recovery, Great Lakes Nation is incoherent. You don't have a bunch of metros seeking the same policy solutions:

Job growth table, June 2011

The challenges that Indianapolis is currently facing are quite different from that of Pittsburgh. No matter that both qualify as Rust Belt cities at the fringes of Great Lakes Nation. There is considerable variance within states, forgetting the more complicated megaregion. Metros are increasingly untethered from their host states. Our toolkit of geographic concepts must catch up with the times.

However, Great Lakes Nation could give birth to more metro autonomy. The European Union has the ironic effect of creating more room for subnational expression. Similarly, Rust Belt cooperation can lower the barriers of state borders that slice up many urban corridors. The delineation of Ohio and Pennsylvania will matter less to the TechBelt.

If Great Lakes Nation takes root, we should be mindful of the different terrain within the Rust Belt. Mapping Great Lake Nation over the Rust Belt is a mistake. Many communities aren't as heavily invested in a manufacturing base as they were in the 1980s. Even the term "manufacturing" glosses over distinctive needs within the industry. Take a look at a map in a recent issue of Wired. It tracks the job growth (2003-2008) within 11 different industry clusters. One policy will not fit all.

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