East Coast, West Coast – What about Our Coast?

Most Americans take it as an article of faith that there’s a strong connection and relationship between the major cities of the East and West coasts.  Indeed, there may be 3,000 miles separating New York from Los Angeles, or San Francisco from Washington, but psychologically the cities each seem to be more connected to each other than, say, Dallas to New York or Atlanta to San Francisco.  Of course, in the minds of the coastal crowd, the rest of the nation has become “flyover” country.  That wasn’t always the case.  How exactly did that happen?

Lots of factors helped to develop America’s west coast.  Certainly the pioneer spirit that initially brought settlers west led to a strong sense of individualism and entrepreneurism that pushed development forward.  The allure of the weather brought many transplants west.  But I think the West Coast benefitted much more from the kinds of connections identified by Jim Russell at Burgh Diaspora (and now at Pacific Standard) – the West Coast had an effective talent attraction strategy, created strong bonds with the East Coast, and never let them go.  It’s a lesson that the shrinking cities of the Rust Belt should heed and practice.

I’m no historian, nor am I the ultimate authority on the development of cities.  But it’s clear West Coast cities did some things that Rust Belt cities did not.  As we all know, the settlement of California was kicked off with the Gold Rush of 1849.  Prior to that California was a sparsely-settled former Mexican territory with no physical or institutional infrastructure.  The Gold Rush propelled Eastern financiers to provide the money to develop San Francisco as the financial center that would open up the west, and give it the physical and institutional resources to deliver its goods to the rest of the nation.  San Francisco never relinquished those ties.

Further south, Los Angeles used its fabulous and consistent weather as a means to attract parts of a budding film industry previously based on the East Coast.  The growth of the film industry ultimately led to the growth of the media industry in Southern California, and voila – the economic underpinnings of a major metropolis are established.  Like San Francisco, LA never relinquished those ties.  (Side note: I don’t think you can understate the importance of the Rose Bowl in luring Midwesterners in particular to Southern California.  The “Granddaddy of Them All”, started in 1902, annually brought the Big Ten’s best and brightest for a few weeks of sun and fun in winter.  The strategy paid off.)

The lesson here for the Rust Belt is talent attraction, and maintaining the connections over time.  San Francisco was able to parlay its Eastern financial connections into the development of a strong financial center, which later served as the financial apparatus for the tech industry.  Los Angeles was able to do the same with the film industry and media, and it could be argued that the city’s ties to Midwestern interests led to the growth of the defense industry there.

As for the Rust Belt?  It seems that what sets it apart from the West Coast is that it remained content to be the industrial hearth of the nation, instead of seeking other avenues to leverage its advantages for even more growth.  That, and the fact that West Coast cities understood the importance of maintaining strong connections with East Coast partners, and East Coast cities understood the financial upside – for their own cities – of staying close to those on the West Coast.  Can the Rust Belt do the same?

This piece first appeared at Corner Side Yard.

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Great Post

West Coast cities understood the importance of maintaining strong connections with East Coast partners, and East Coast cities understood the financial upside – for their own cities – of staying close to those on the West Coast. Can the Rust Belt do the same?

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No offense, but...

"The Gold Rush propelled Eastern financiers to provide the money to develop San Francisco as the financial center that would open up the west, and give it the physical and institutional resources to deliver its goods to the rest of the nation. San Francisco never relinquished those ties."

Horsefeathers.

At the risk of asking a rhetorical question, why would San Francisco be dependent on the largesse of Wall Street when it was already knee-deep in the product of the Gold Rush?

At the time of the Gold Rush, the lines of communication between New York and San Francisco were roughly six months. As is often the case, a local need for a service, such as banking, spawned a local solution. Bank of America and Wells Fargo were both started in San Francisco. There's a story that following the earthquake in 1906, A. P. Gianini, the founder of BofA, set up a card table outside the company's main San Francisco branch to reassure depositors that their money was still safe.

It's also true that the money to build the western half of the transcontinental railroad between San Francisco and Promontory Point in Utah was made possible through the financial maneuvers of Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and others who were all Californians.

Those familiar with the history of Silicon Valley would probably also tell you that the location of the computer industry there was mostly an accident, and due to the fact that Palo Alto was William Shockley's home town. A bunch of people who worked for Shockley, and got fed up with his management style, walked to start nearby companies of their own. Including one called Intel.

It can be argued that a lot of the development of California happened in spite of the influence of Wall Street and not because of it.

Terrible article...sorry Pete

This article is terrible, it might as well be a tabloid article from 2003 on Paris Hilton's preference for shuttling between southern Californian suburbs and Manhattan.

In 2012 California had the highest poverty rate in the nation at about 23%. Southern California is struggling to find its footing after the gov't began pulling out all the cold war contracts that fueled heavy industry and lots of jobs. A couple billionaires in SF does little for the rest of your struggling state. Also, you provide zero evidence that the west coast links to the East Coast are stronger than the South's, Great Lakes, Great Plain's, etc. In fact, outside of Hollywood circles and money pouring into some SF startups, the opposite is probably true. Did you know that by my most definitions the rust belt includes large swaths of the East Coast and Midwest... including.. wait for it... the New York City metro. The city that all major cities especially aspiring ugly ones like LA or small ones like SF seek to compare themselves to however silly it seems to everyone else, especially NY'ers.

Is Chicago part of the Rust Belt, but not New York City? Because if it is then the premise of your whole article is still utterly lost given Chicago's extremely strong economic ties to not only New York City, but the rest of the East coast, country and world. Chicagoland is also the most economically diverse metro in N. America. What about Minneapolis? Columbus? Toronto? or are we only talking about certain parts of Chicagoland and Philadelphia, south Detroit(but not the wealthy suburbs), and Newark, NJ? We are definitely not talking about S. California's loss of industry, loss of decent jobs, and declining standard of living though right?