Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rust Belt Extreme Commuting

Salt Lake City was my first clue about extreme commuting. Real estate refugees from California took up residence in Utah, flying back to Los Angeles for work. Once aware of the trend, it was everywhere I looked. Ft. Collins, Colorado has more than a few Bay Area employees. Then I got to experience the lifestyle through my wife, who did the Denver-to-DC "drive" for the first six months of 2011. The current fiscal crisis has many people doing crazy things to make ends meet.

Not all extreme commuting is created equal. Sometimes the hardship is a matter of necessity. Other times, it is geographic arbitrage. Choosing Toledo:

"I came to Toledo, went to school at the university, played football for three years back in the early 1980s and never left town," [Steve Powhida] said. "So, it's been a good time."

When Powhida is commuting between his job in New York, and his home in Toledo, he says he's always making time for game day in and around the Glass City.

"Toledo, I like it, I call it, we're just a little rust belt city," Powhida said. "It's great. You can walk 100 yards to the stadium and get to a game. It's just a big town. You have great little high school football that goes on out in the suburbs, and all the northern lakes leagues. It's kind of been that way for the 20 years I've been here."

Emphasis added. Powhida's story reminds me of Phil Kidd's love affair with Youngstown. Both are outsiders who care deeply about an adopted Rust Belt city. Both are going to great lengths to make the relationship work. That's the kind of entrepreneurial spirit lacking in most shrinking cities.

Opportunity might be located elsewhere. That doesn't mean Toledo or Youngstown can't benefit. People develop, not places.

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