Heartland

Infrastructure and Aesthetics

SunolWaterTemple.jpg

In his 2005 book Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, Brian Hayes surveys the built environment with an undaunted appreciation of the vast networks of infrastructure systems in America. Hayes, a writer for American Scientist, argues that common understanding of infrastructure is just as important as an understanding of nature itself. Without the ubiquitous power lines, the oft disparaged garbage dumps, or the controversial mining industry, the United States would not have been able to achieve status as the paragon of 20th Century modernization – a pattern now emulated by the likes of China and India.

Yet it seems that ‘infrastructure’ has lost its fabled status in America.  read more »

What Way for the Stimulus? Post-Industrial America vs. Neo-Industrial America

iStock_000002774936XSmall.jpg

As a result of the economic crisis, there is a broad consensus in favor of large-scale public investment in infrastructure in the U.S., both as part of a temporary stimulus program and to promote long-term modernization of America’s transportation, energy, telecom and water utility grids. But this momentary consensus masks the continuing disagreement on whether the U.S. government can legitimately promote American industries, and, if so, which industries. This is a problem for infrastructure policy, because different national infrastructures correspond to different national economic strategies.  read more »

The Mobility Paradox: Investing in Human Capital Fuels Migration

iStock_000004913742XSmall.jpg

China has an interesting urban development strategy. The government bypasses those areas that it considers backward and plagued by poverty and entrenched political corruption. Instead, the investment goes into those areas it presumes to be new boomtowns.

Now imagine if that Darwinian approach was used here in the United States. A report (“City Beautiful”) authored by two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia advocates pushing federal infrastructure dollars – which could soon be flowing in the hundreds of billions – not towards our tired, hard-pressed urban areas but those that have experienced the greatest extent of gentrification.  read more »

Moving to Flyover Country

iStock_000006811038XSmall.jpg

As the international financial crisis and the US economy have worsened, there have been various reports about more people “staying put,” not moving from one part of the country to another. There is some truth in this, but the latest US Bureau of the Census estimates indicate the people are still moving, and in big numbers.  read more »

Oregon’s Fringes: A New Rural Alternative

iStock_000002962004XSmall.jpg

Once the bastion of a thriving rural middle class, Oregon’s rural communities are now barely scraping by. The state’s timber industry employed 81,400 residents at its peak in 1978. At the time, the industry made up 49% of all manufacturing jobs in the state according to the Oregon Employment Department.

Since then, the recessions of the early eighties and nineties, increased land-use restriction, decreased timber supply, global competition and automation of the timber industry have devastated rural communities that relied on once-plentiful timber jobs.  read more »

Postindustrial Strength Brain Drain Policy

iStock_000003921899XSmall.jpg

In the discussions of the stimulus and infrastructure problem, little attention has yet been paid to addressing brain drain. Yet for many regions – particularly in the old industrial heartland – no issue could be more critical.

Perhaps the most important investment in regional human capital occurs at local schools. Enterprise looks to the secondary and post-secondary institutions within the area for labor. In this regard, it makes sense to fund better learning with local and state taxes as long as that talent remains within that geography.  read more »

How To Save The Industrial Heartland

800px-Kalamazoo.jpg

You would think an economic development official in Michigan these days would be contemplating either early retirement or seppuku. Yet the feisty Ron Kitchens, who runs Southwest Michigan First out of Kalamazoo, sounds almost giddy with the future prospects for his region.

How can that be? Where most of America sees a dysfunctional state tied down by a dismal industry, Kitchens points to the growth of jobs in his region in a host of fields, from business services to engineering and medical manufacturing. Indeed, as most Michigan communities have lost jobs this decade, the Kalamazoo region, with roughly 300,000 residents, has posted modest but consistent gains.  read more »

Bailing out on the Dreamland…And Returning Home

iStock_000005724729XSmall.jpg

My father, who was from eastern Kentucky, headed with millions of other Appalachian people for the “promised land” after the great depression. The promised land in that day consisted of cities such as Dayton, Detroit, Gary, and Cincinnati, out of which rose great factories that employed thousands on giant “campuses.” They thrived through the vigor of this transplanted workforce – uneducated like my father but full of gumption, tenacity and work ethic.  read more »

Make Sure All That Infrastructure Spending Is Well Supported

bldg.research2_3.jpg

It's the new buzzword: infrastructure.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised billions in infrastructure spending as part of a public works program bigger than any since the interstate highway system was built in the 1950s. Though it was greeted with hosannas, his proposal is only tapping into a clamor for such spending that's been rising ever since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and a major bridge collapsed in Minneapolis last year. With the economy now officially in recession, the rage for new brick and mortar is reaching a fever pitch.

But before we commit hundreds of billions to new construction projects, we should focus on just what kind of infrastructure investment we should – and shouldn't – be making.  read more »

How About a Rural Stimulus?

ruralpenn.jpg

In Pennsylvania, public and private funds mainly are directed into areas where people live and where people vote. As a result urban Pennsylvania has significant advantages over rural communities in securing public funds and private investment.  read more »