Friday, October 16, 2009

Auto Industry Diaspora

If you are interested in urban policy, then you should be reading the Brookings blog at The New Republic. By way of introduction, a post published today concerns all the communities with strong ties to the auto industry. This group shares common economic struggles, particularly now:

Last week’s Conference on Automotive Communities and Workforce Adjustment, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and held at the bank’s Detroit branch, understandably focused a lot on Detroit and southeastern Michigan. In my talk at that conference, though, I pointed out that the metropolitan areas that depend most heavily on the auto industry (including assembly and parts, foreign companies as well as the Detroit Three) aren’t just in Michigan, and most aren’t anywhere near the size of Detroit.

The implication for the Mahoning Valley is obvious given the dependence on the auto industry in Lordstown. The point I want to make is that we tend to paint with the broad brush of a state or, a bit finer, a large region within a state. The economic geography is a lot more complicated than that. Worse is the stereotypical landscape of "Rust Belt" and "Sun Belt". There are many Rust Belt cities within the Sun Belt megaregion.

In this sense, our attempts at better policy are doomed from the start. Federal initiatives are funneled through the states. That is the legacy of our political geography. We try to work around this handicap by grouping states together that seem to share some common traits. (See the Great Lakes Economic Initiative) The economic geography reveals that we live in a Metro Nation. Chattanooga, TN and Birmingham, AL have a lot in common with Youngstown. I think this suggests that there should be a network of cities with similar economic development issues. The best example I know about is the Shrinking Cities Network.

Instead of thinking in terms of Ohio or Northeast Ohio or even Cleveburgh, remember the shrinking cities diaspora.

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