The Great Plains: An Old Frontier May Hold The Secret to Recovery

Could the next zone of opportunity exist in the middle of the country? Census unemployment figures seem to signify this notion, especially in the Great Plains.

State-wise, November 2010 unemployment rates were lowest in North Dakota at 3.6%; South Dakota at 4.6%; Nebraska at 4.9%; Kansas at 6.5%; and Iowa at 6.8%. Compare these numbers to the ever-growing Sunbelt states where unemployment is at its most dismal with Arizona at 9.6%, California at 12.4%, and Nevada at a depressing 14%.

The top ten cities with the lowest unemployment rates are all found in the Midwest and the Great Plains, with the exception of Burlington, VT and Portsmouth, NH. The strength of the growing, younger manufacturing industry that escaped the huge manufacturing employment declines in the 80s and 90s may be fueling the prosperity in the plains.

Upon closer inspection of the economies of these cities, a few common denominators are revealed. Health care is a prevailing industry recurrent across many of the cities. Unsurprisingly, agribusiness and manufacturing also dominate, along with insurance services, food processing, and, in some cases, higher education.

Metromonitor prepared this interesting piece using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics allowing one to see unemployement rates throughout the Midwest and the Rust Belt that appear to be on the rebound. The bottom map is of particular interest: One year’s growth has shown a decrease in unemployment throughout much of the Rust Belt, while cities in California and Florida consistently flounder. As far as overall performance, many cities in the Midwest – and much of the Great Plains – remain strong out of the recession and are comparable to the sturdy Texan cities that possess surging economies.

Perhaps these urban centers across the Midwest, and especially the Great Plains, should be viewed as models for effective economic development. Large cities throughout the Great Plains offer integral services not found for miles and serve as regional havens for essential activities such as health care, education, business services, and food processing. Meanwhile, cities with declining industries, exploding real estate prices, and a surplus of workers suffer. Areas such as the Sun Belt, California, Florida, and some Northeastern cities bare the weight of this dilemma. Our focus should rest on the well-grounded economies of the often-ignored flyover states, instead of those on the crumbling coasts.