Wisconsin Checks Out The Finland Club


Our Central Wisconsin delegation journeyed to Finland in October, 2008. We definitely learned a few lessons that we’ll apply here at home, with the hope of moving our ability to compete globally to a much higher level.

“Finland is not a country, it is a club” stated one of the many presenters we heard during our study tour. This perspective of how Finns see themselves says something valuable about what they believe it will take for them to compete in the changing global economy: a whole lot of cooperation, strong relationships and inter-connectedness!  read more »

Obama: Only Implement Green Policies that Make Sense in a Time of Crisis


With the exception of African-Americans, the group perhaps most energized by the Barack Obama presidency has been the environmentalists. Yet if most Americans can celebrate along with their black fellow citizens the tremendous achievement of Obama’s accession, the rise of green power may have consequences less widely appreciated.

The new power of the green lobby — including a growing number of investment and venture capital firms — introduces something new to national politics, although already familiar in places such as California and Oregon. Even if you welcome the departure of the Bush team, with its slavish fealty to Big Oil and the Saudis, the new power waged by environmental ideologues could impede the president’s primary goal of restarting our battered economy.  read more »

Infrastructure and Aesthetics


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 »