Thursday, June 3, 2010

Great Lakes are Dead, Long Live the Great Lakes

John C. Austin, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program
June 01, 2010

The portion of the blogosphere inclined to noodle over Brookings State of Metro America report, included some who now ask, “whither the Rust Belt?” and “whither the Brookings Great Lakes Economic Initiative?”.

I’m pleased to say all are alive and in forward-looking form. The Great Lakes Economic Initiative developed several years ago, not out of a DC-based “mega-region” overlay, but as I traded notes from my years as an elected official and public policy-shaper in Michigan and teamed up with similarly situated political, business and civic leaders from Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and elsewhere around the region. We basically said, “Don’t we have a similar economic and cultural story? Aren’t we trying to treat the same problems; and leverage the same assets? Isn’t there more we can do working together to accelerate our economic transition?”

At the same time Dick Longworth, a Pulitzer prize-winning former journalist, documented the shared Midwestern and cultural reality in his book Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism.

The basic story line of the Great Lakes states was of a region uniquely rich in raw materials and fertile land that became the breadbasket of the growing country, then the world’s manufacturing innovation and creation center.

As the grains of the plains came to Minneapolis-St. Paul, it became the flour-milling and export capital of the world, home to Pillsbury and General Mills. As pigs were slaughtered in Cincinnati, making soap as a byproduct, the consumer products giant Proctor and Gamble grew. As buggy makers in Flint and Detroit were converted by Henry Ford and Billy Durant into Ford and GM, so too metal-benders for farm equipment in Grand Rapids starting making chairs for Steelcase and Herman Miller, electronics innovators in Dayton led to EDS and AC-Delco, iron ore from Duluth-fed US Steel in Gary, Cleveland and Buffalo. More here.

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