Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Disruptive Youngstown

I've got a big backlog of blog fodder. If I don't write now, then I'll likely never do it. Aaron Renn does a good job of framing the urban frontier hypothesis here and here. I'd like to add to this burgeoning narrative the thinking of Ryan Avent:

I think Lee’s disruptive technology post offers us a glimpse at an explanation. When a metropolitan area has an old, successful, established industry as its economic driver, that area builds its infrastructure and institutions around that industry. These institutions are likely to be unwilling and unable to accomodate and support growth industries. We can think about legislators in a Rust Belt state who fight to protect old industries even when the protections they seek would undermine growth industries. Or banks in old manufacturing centers that are reluctant to invest in start-ups with sharply different practices from the old giants.

If you have a daring new idea, you don’t take it to someone who’s living fat off something which has worked for decades. You take it to someone who is hungry. Many of the Sunbelt boom towns which have sprung up over the past half century grew at the start by accepting what investment they could. I’m reminded of my hometown, where leaders were anxious to attract high-tech investments to their new Research Triangle Park. It was lack of better options that gave them the idea in the first place — something which might not have occured to leaders in a city where hundreds of thousands of people earned good union wages in manufacturing plants. And while leaders definitely wanted to craft a research environment, they took the investments they could get. Not having recently been on top of the world, they had the benefit of not suffering from wounded pride when less-than-glamorous operations came to invest.

I emphasized the relevant part of the passage. Youngstown may be the hungriest city in the entire Rust Belt. That's another way of framing an urban frontier opportunity. You can do in Youngstown what you can't do in Cleveland, a city "suffering from wounded pride".

When I imagine Richard Longworth's Midwest, I envision a landscape of wounded pride. We need a good psychiatrist. The collective psyche of Youngstown has moved beyond historical stature. That's why the Mahoning Valley is a good place for a daring idea.


  1. Wow - how did I miss this piece from August when I subscribe to Avent's blog? It's first class.

  2. I agree. I understand a little more each time I read it. With your two posts in mind, the resonance of Avent's analogy was suddenly clear to me.