Impending Doom for the Heartland?

The Financial Times recently made note of the biggest drop in commodity prices in 28 years. This, of course, is a fall from record highs and some analysts are continuing bullish forecasts. The Reuters/Jeffries CRB index has continued its decline the past few days:

It's a trend to keep an eye on.


Homeless IT Worker in San Francisco

Yesterday, an article appeared in the SF Chronicle by C.W. Nevius about an Internet salesman who lives in a tent in Golden Gate Park because housing costs are too high. He works by day at a cafe and pitches his tent at night getting up before dawn when the police do raids to evict illegal campers.

With much of the new development in SF geared towards the flush Web 2.0 crowd, there are fewer and fewer places for the lower middle-class to live. The resident hotels in SF are not pleasant places to live or even visit (I went voter canvassing in a few three years ago).

What is the housing solution for the Tom Sepas of the world? If we ever start seeing 21st Century Hoovervilles, they could be populated by people like him.

A very sobering tale that shatters the popular vision of the everyman Internet worker as some high-flying urban hepcat.

Windy City Triumphalism at Odds with Souring Economy

Mayor Daley said this week that the economy in Chicago is the worst that he's seen since becoming mayor.

You'd never guess this judging by the article about "demographic inversion" published in the New Republic by Alan Ehrenhalt . The author prints a lot of anecdotal evidence about on-going gentrification he witnesses in his hometown but unfortunately offers precious few statistics about job growth.

The vacancy rate for industrial real estate in the Chicago area recently climbed to its highest level in 14 years. The governor also called violence in the city "out of control."

Ranking "Dreamtowns"

Over half of the nation lives in metropolitan areas of more than 1 million people, but suggests many may indicate another preference:

Yet a substantial number of these residents of big cities and inner-ring suburbs don't have their hearts in it. They would prefer to live on the suburban fringe or in small-town America, as repeatedly shown by surveys during the past decade.

Bizjournals just released rankings of micropolitan areas. Micropolitan areas are urbanized small cities where the central city population is between 10,000 and 50,000. Like metropolitan areas, micropolitans are still defined by county and commuting geography, so many are larger than 50,000 overall.

Because they offer self contained employment centers, these types of places may prove to be even more appealing as energy costs escalate. Recent domestic migration trends show that small and medium sized metro regions are attracting the most new residents.

Check out the rankings list, it's odd to note that most of the top 20 are in northern climates. Not surprisingly, small college towns dominate the rankings, offering a source of stable professional jobs and the added vitality of a new crop of 20-somethings each year.

When The City You Love Starts To Scare You

Colin McEnroe's piece in the Hartford Courant is a frightening tale about the indifference of the police to crime when it becomes so commonplace. A two hour wait for a call about a burglary. "I live in Gotham City, but there's no Batman."


Altars to Marble Kitchen Counters: Churches Converting to Condos

In Boston, 65 parishes have been shuttered since 2004 and 30 have been sold - some to developers. And now, these former neighborhood institutions are becoming something truly unholy - high-priced condominiums. This article in the Boston Globe chronicles the trend. But hey, at least the priests are offering their blessings to these buildings' new uses at the developer's behest.

Geography of Wind

The American Wind Energy Association just announced that the US has overtaken Germany as the worlds top wind power generator, you're certainly familiar with T. Boone Pickens's wind obsession, and DOE is claiming we could be generating 20% of our power with wind by 2030.

Check out DOE's wind energy potential maps and AWEA's run down of installed and pending wind power projects in the U.S.

The question is can the country's transmission infrastructure withstand a redistribution of power generation? Who will build the needed infrastructure? In my home state of North Dakota, often called the "Saudi Arabia of Wind," the transmission capacity problem was cited so frequently for slow wind build out that the state government has gotten involved.


Demography of the Battleground States

William Frey of the Milken Institute and Brookings Institution breaks down the race demographics of the presidential battleground states in this month's Milken Institute Review. Frey groups the states into what he calls the Fast Growing Battlegrounds, Slow Growing Battlegrounds, and Fast-Growing South Longshots.

His conclusion? The rapid growth in racial minorities in the fast growing battleground states make them prime targets for Obama. A similar trend in the longshot states, along with recent migration from blue states, give him a chance there as well. On the other hand, white dominated slow growth battleground states where Obama fared poorly in the primaries leave plenty of room for McCain to move in.

Check out Frey's analysis.

FreyBattleground.pdf402.29 KB

A look at the Information Sector

The Information sector of the economy is has followed an interesting trajectory over the past 15 years. The info sector built up to a huge peak in the early part of this decade, and has seen general decline since that time.

Growth in Information Subsectors:

The big boom and bust was caused by employment inflation of the telecommunications sector. Publishing followed a similar, but less extreme path. Both industries have reverted to employment levels in the early 1990s.

Motion picture and recording, data processing, broadcasting, and Internet publishing have all seen modest gains since the early 1990s.

Information growth by percent:

Here's the fastest growing metro areas in the information sector through the recent period of decline. We're seeing a decentralization effect here: smaller metros with historically manufacturing-centric otherwise specialized economies are building information industries.

Information growth by number of jobs:

Seattle is leading the charge and Madison is rapidly becoming and information center in the central states. I wouldn't have guessed Springfield, MO or Orlando would show up here.

Flushing in Florida?

It's all gloom and doom in the Miami Herald today after recent job numbers indicate the state is last in the nation in job creation.

The top job-loss state in the nation. Shrinking wages. Collapsing population growth. Record home foreclosures.

Florida's economy is not just firmly and bleakly in the red ---- it will likely stay that way until next June, according to the state government's top economists who issued their most pessimistic financial forecast in years.

With few exceptions, the economists' Wednesday forecast shows that most economic indicators will do worse in this budget year when compared to a forecast they issued in February.

A good sign that the recent growth in Florida was built on a house of cards, this is right in line with the findings of our Best Cities analysis.

Link via Steve Bartin.