Google the phrase “fly-over state.” You will find some unkind and a few nasty characterizations of the states that occupy the middle of the country. Nobody goes to these boring, unremarkable places with their ignorant people, uncultured lifestyles and awful weather. "Fly-over states" are where people never actually go but just fly over to get from the East Coast to the West Coast where the interesting places are.
Now I don't want to disparage the coastal states or their “cool” cities because I have many friends living and working there that I would never dream of offending. But the truth is that the middle of the country is doing quite well and can look forward to a bright future with unaccustomed, uncharacteristic optimism.
The Great Plains turnabout is robust and pervasive, according to “The Rise of the Great Plains,” a report on the future of the American Great Plains recently released by Texas Tech University. Joel Kotkin, Praxis Strategy Group and Kevin Mulligan of TTU’s Center of Geospatial Technology authored the report, which is accompanied by an interactive online atlas of economic, demographic and geographic data.
Instead of being passed over, the region has surpassed the national norms in everything from population increase to income and job growth during the last decade. After generations of net out-migration, the entire region now enjoys a net in-migration from other states, as well as increased immigration from around the world. Contrary to perceptions of the area as a wind-swept, old-age home, the vast majority of the newcomers are between the ages of 20 and 35.
“The Rise of the Great Plains” concludes that three critical factors will propel the region’s future in the 21st century.
First, the region’s vast resources places it in an excellent position to take advantage of worldwide increases in demand for food, fiber and fuel. The region’s manufacturing prowess and increasing trade savvy can propel it into more global markets.
Second, the hyper-evolution and adoption of advanced technologies has enhanced the development of precision agriculture and energy resources, notably oil and gas previously considered impractical to tap. So, too, the Internet and advanced communications have reduced many of the barriers — socio-economic and cultural — which have isolated the Plains from the rest of the country and the world.
Third, and perhaps most significantly, are demographic changes. The reversal of out-migration means that the region is again becoming attractive to people with ambition and talent. This is particularly true of leading cities, many of which now enjoy positive net migration not only from their own rural hinterlands, but from metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Minneapolis, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and Chicago.
Fly-over states forever? Certainly some of the economic realities and perceptions of the Great Plains will persist. Yet, we can accelerate their demise by choosing to make prudent, generative investments in our infrastructure, businesses, institutions, communities and people. By doing so, we ourselves will be empowered to fly over to opportunities wherever they might be found throughout the world.
Delore Zimmerman is the President of Praxis Strategy Group and Publisher of NewGeography.com. This piece originally appeared in Prairie Business Magazine, January 31, 2013.