Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Speaker: Midwest must reinvent to survive

WOOSTER -- If the Midwest states are to survive in this age of globalization, they must reinvent the region and seek ways to collaborate and merge, a senior fellow with a foreign affairs organization said.

The Midwest's economy revolves around two "big things," intensive agriculture and heavy industry, said Richard Longworth, author of "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalization" and a fellow with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. However, globalization has tossed both of these up in the air.

Longworth was the keynote speaker of the three-day NorthCentral Region Mini Land Grant Conference at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center's Shisler Center. It wraps up today.

While the region manufactures as much as it ever has, it is doing so with fewer people, Longworth said, using a steel plant that produces the same output today with one-tenth the number of employees.

A century ago, the Midwest acted as the Silicon Valley of today, where the ideas of backyard tinkerers and basement entrepreneurs like the Timkens, Ketterings and Goodriches in Northeast Ohio, Longworth said. The ideas were so good, the corporations were so powerful, this region lived off of them ever since.

Those corporations provided good-paying jobs, consequently no other good ideas were needed, which led to the loss of the knack to innovate and invent, traits that enabled this area to dominate the national and world economy.

Longworth concludes the Midwest must reinvent itself or die. Part of the solution is for land grant schools, cities and other organizations to look beyond state lines and political boundaries to cooperate with one another rather than compete. He spoke of the need to develop global cities in the region because the true competition was not coming from nearby states, but from across the globe.

In Northeast Ohio, the Fund for Our Economic Future has been promoting regionalism. Longworth's recommendations takes the mission of the Fund and expands it. Rod Crider, president of Wayne Economic Development Council, said regional groups like the Fund need to connect with others to think and act differently to help the Midwest come back.

Collaboration will need to work on all levels, whether it's Wooster, Wayne County, Northeast Ohio or the Great Lakes region, Crider added.

Bobby Moser, dean of OSU's College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, asked Longworth what his priorities would be.

The priorities should include education at all levels, and there should be an awareness about how education fits with economic development, Longworth said. He added there needs to be a high-speed rail system to connect the Midwest's cities so travel time would be about two to three hours.

Tuesday's morning session included discussions about the bioeconomy. Adam Liska of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln spoke about the "Life Cycle Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn Ethanol," Randy Fortenbery of the University of Wisconsin-Madison talked about issues faced by bio-refinerie, Stephen Myers of Ohio State University talked about bioproducts being created through the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center, and Theresa Selfa, a sociologist at Kansas State University, addressed how ethanol plants were impacting rural communities.

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