Renewing America’s Economic Progress through Older Industrial Cities

Renewing America’s Economic Progress through Older Industrial Cities


The Brookings Institution has a fascinating report on the opportunities to improve our nation’s decaying cities in the American heartland. Economic growth has been concentrated on the coasts and in big cities. Economic decline has been occurring in smaller and mid sized cities and counties in the industrial Midwest and Northeast for the last 46 years surveyed. Some of the decline was the collapse of manufacturing, particularly autos, and steel. It may have been exacerbated by urban/suburban, labor/management and black/white tensions in these counties. Several counties and regions are making big progress in revitalizing their local economies and may provide lessons to others.

The New York Times’ Eduardo Porter picked this research up in an article entitled “For Industrial Cities in Decline, Lessons on Staying Rust Free” May 2, 2018. The map caught my attention because Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Louisville were among the decliners while LA, the Bay Area, Seattle, Boston, Denver were among the counties growing in population, jobs and household incomes. Porter points out that the highest growth was concentrated in urban counties with lots of growth in immigrant populations and the greatest impacts from the end to segregation in the 60s.

The Brookings report broke the 70 counties experiencing manufacturing and economic decline into four categories: strong, emerging, stabilizing and vulnerable. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were among the strong rebirth counties; Cincinnati, Providence and Milwaukee were among the emerging; Cleveland, Indianapolis and Kalamazoo were among the stabilizing, and Detroit, Dayton, Flint and Roanoke, VA were among the vulnerable. They looked at factors that were most associated with economic re-birth and identified the following: a large academic research university whose new ideas were being translated into new technologies and new companies and new jobs; large cities which had more resources to devote to their re-birth; East Coast cities which had the advantages of being adjacent to the economic growth in Boston, DC and NYC, and racial and ethnic inclusion was key to successful rebirth.

They identified successful local and regional programs: Data to Decisions in Central New York state, Third Frontier Program in Ohio, LaunchCode in St. Louis, MO and Thread in Baltimore MD. LaunchCode and Thread are education-based programs. Third Frontier and Data to Decisions are technology-based economic development. Porter makes the point that cutting higher education funding is extremely counter-productive to economic renewal and the Brookings report highlights the need for better STEM education for lower income students. The authors do not expect much help from the Trump Administration, but contend that local, regional and state strategies are the key to rebirth of these communities.


Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin


Dated: 5/4/18



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