There was terrible news for Dayton this week as the city's last Fortune 500 company, NCR, founded locally in 1884, announced it was moving its headquarters to Atlanta. The Dayton Daily News is the place for complete coverage.
This is bad news not just for Dayton, but for the state of Ohio and the entire Midwest. Firstly, it illustrates the plight of the smaller cities of the Midwest, the ones below one million in metro area population that I usually don't write much about. These cities, including places like Dayton, Youngstown, and Toledo, are often struggling. Unless they are a state capital and/or home to a major state university, they just don't seem to have quite the scale necessary to operate in the globalized economy. These cities have special challenges and I won't profess to have answers for them.
Secondly, this is further damage to the economic reputation of the Midwest as a whole. Loyal readers know that I've been skeptical of cross-regional collaboration as a panacea (though I've also written some positive things about it). However, there are clearly issues that affect the Midwest as a whole. It has, for example, a collective reputation as the Rust Belt that probably only Chicago is able to overcome.
This reputation creates formidable brand headwinds in trying to attract the talent needed to compete in the 21st century. The Atlanta Business Chronicle had an interesting take on the NCR move, with one anonymous source attributing it to talent issues with Dayton. "They [NCR] can’t recruit talent to move to Dayton, Ohio."
So what, you might say. It's Dayton. But my town is way cooler than Dayton. Well, the problem extends well beyond Dayton. Consider Ann Arbor. If any city in the Midwest can claim to be a winner in a the knowledge economy, it has to be the home of U of M, the best public university in the Midwest. But according to an article in the Journal, "Despite Ann Arbor's educated work force, employers here find Michigan's reputation as a failing manufacturing economy can deter potential hires from moving to the state."
In short, this thing affects everybody. Even the best regional performers will be fighting horrible brand headwinds as long as the region in which they are embedded continues to fail. It's like a larger version of what I've long said about the Hoosier State, that there can't be a long term prosperous Indianapolis without a prosperous Indiana.
The lessons of Dayton and NCR are not being lost on people locally and around the state at least. Local blog Dayton Most Metro asks, "Are we ready to wake up yet?"
And a columnist in the Cleveland Plain Dealer chimes in with a call to arms for his city.
When Ohio cities lose storied corporate birthrights to the likes of Beijing, Calcutta, or even the green fields of Ohio suburbia, I understand potentially insurmountable market forces at work.
But when we continue to lose to the likes of Georgia, I only recognize underperforming leadership and a criminal failure to anticipate market realities.
In trying to understand the meaning of it all, we should reflect on the somber and lonely sentiments of a Dayton Daily News editorial that noted Wednesday that the city is now on its own.
Closer to home, Cuyahoga County continues to inch closer to its civic funeral. Not only do we continue to bleed off population and shutter what is left of our industrial base, we continue to act in a predictable political fashion that hastens our day of reckoning.
The inability of Cuyahoga County officials to agree on government reform tells the world that Northeast Ohio continues to be no place to do business. Like Dayton, our region remains a corporate cherry-picker's fantasy.
Soon there will be nothing left to govern in Cuyahoga County.
This post originally appeared at The Urbanophile.