Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Detroit: Out-Migration Devastates Michigan (and the Midwest)

I have a riddle: Since education makes a person more likely to leave your region, how do you justify your investment in human capital?” – Jim Russell, Burgh Diaspora

The Detroit News is running a series on out-migration from Michigan called “Leaving Michigan Behind“. (For some reason, the main article is missing from the series front page). While this series is nominally about Michigan, that state’s acute woes, as in many areas, shows us exactly the same problem that has been occurring in slow motion in the Midwest for a long time.

This article finally recognizes the full truth. Out-migration from Michigan is not just an effect of the poor economy there, but has also become one of its causes. Growth has its own particular logic. It feeds on itself. So to with decline. It begets more decline. Reversal will not be easy. For Michigan, it likely won’t happen until the auto industry restructuring is completed. In other places, there is more scope to act.

The demographic challenge facing Michigan is huge:

  • A net of 109,000 people left Michigan last year
  • Since 2001, Michigan lost 465,000 people to migration – as much as the population of Grand Rapids, Warren, and Sterling Heights (the second, third, and fourth largest cities in the state after Detroit) combined. “Population loss of that magnitude is so rare that its impact has never been studied.”
  • Those departing are disproportionately educated and higher income. The state lost a net of 18,000 people with college degrees in 2007 alone. Half of Michigan’s college grads leave the state a year after graduation. The largest single city for Michigan State alumni is now Chicago. “It’s just like being back at Michigan State” says one of the people who moved there.
  • People leaving earned $49,700. Those who moved in, only $40,000. This represented a payroll loss in the state of $1.2 billion in 2007 alone – with an additional $3.7 billion in indirect effects.
  • The departure is putting downward pressure on housing prices, reducing tax collections, and making it difficult for the state and its communities to invest in improvement.
  • The series devoted a whole article to the thousands more people who want to leave but can’t due to being upside down in their mortgage or other constraints.

This is an incredible problem, not just for Michigan, but for the rest of the Midwest. In particular, the net loss of college educated residents who are the entrepreneurs and workforce of the new economy businesses is crippling. Businesses won’t be started or relocate in an place without an ample workforce.

However, the current focus on “brain drain” as the source of the problem misses the real issue. While no doubt the Midwest economy is causing college grads who might otherwise want to stay home to leave, in an ever more mobile society, moving out is a natural part of people’s lives. Indeed, if you read the typical account of how the elite global knowledge worker lives, you often hear about people flitting from place to place to place chasing opportunity.

The real problem is not that too many people are leaving, but rather that too few are coming. It isn’t an outflow problem, it’s an inflow problem. Places like Silicon Valley or New York or London didn’t get to be talent hubs by retaining their home grown talent – they did it by hoovering up everybody else’s talent. They might have good education systems and elite universities to be sure, but they’ve smartly decided to outsource the expensive process of producing most of their brains to other people – like the folks in the Midwest. Quoting the article

“Saying that college grad rates must increase for Michigan to remain competitive, Granholm set a goal in 2004 of doubling the number of college graduates.

“Since then, the number graduating from Michigan colleges has inched upward from 38,615 in 2004 to 41,250 in 2008.

“But the burgeoning exodus of college grads has wiped out that gain.

“The biggest beneficiaries of Granholm’s efforts so far have been states like Washington, where officials bluntly describe the influx of thousands of college-educated workers from Michigan as a cost-effective approach to education.

“‘That we can attract those people (with degrees) is a benefit to the state,’ said Washington state Rep. Glenn Anderson, the ranking Republican on the higher education committee. ‘We are importing intellectual capital at a very low cost to ourselves.’

“So many college grads have flooded into Washington to work for companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, that Anderson has had trouble pushing for increased higher education funding for in-state students.

“Indeed, since 2000, Washington has jumped from 18th to 12th in the nation in the percentage of adults with a degree. Michigan fell from 30th to 35th.

“‘We’re getting a lot of people, bright people, and that’s good,’ said State Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett.”

This shows the counter-productive nature of programs designed to boost educational attainment rates. The quote at the top of this article says it all. I remember seeing a billboard advertisement for Indiana University touting, “More Brains, Less Drain”. But that is absolutely backwards. More brains means more drain.

The Midwest’s leading export isn’t cars, it’s educated people. Arguably much of the Midwest is, as someone once put it, a giant factory producing people for export.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t invest in our kids education. If we didn’t educate them, they might be more likely to stay, but they would not be the contributor to our economy that we might hope. But beyond the economic effects, it is simply the right thing to do. I believe we owe it to our children to do what we can to help them find their fullest flourishing in life, to have the best chance of realizing their hopes and dreams.

Which is another reason I’m troubled by policies that try to retain college grads in state. It is almost an exploitative message, one where the highest educated children are expected to stay home not for their own benefit, but for someone else’s. I want everyone to have the widest possible horizons. By all means, if they want to stay at home, I want there to be a place for them there. But often it is better for them to leave. I can guarantee you that you wouldn’t be reading this post if I had stayed in Laconia. I had to leave to become The Urbanophile. Having left, I can return with new and valuable experience and more to offer than if I’d stayed. Also, even if I were to leave and never come back, I’d like to think I can still serve the cause by being an advocate and a connection for the old hometown and home state. Cities and states need to start looking at those who left as an asset, the way universities and employers see their alumni networks, instead of a loss.

There are three sources of talent:

  1. People who stayed
  2. Boomerangers who left and came back
  3. Immigrants who are new to a place

All of the most successful cities get the majority of their talent through immigration. But most places in the Midwest don’t even try to lure non-native graduates. It’s as if they have so little confidence in their attractiveness that they can’t even conceive of someone who wasn’t born there wanting to move in. They put all of their focus on retention and boomerangers – and mostly just educating more people who will end up moving out of state.

This has serious consequences. Firstly, it looks at talent like some sort of a “wages fund doctrine”. That is, it assumes every state has its fixed homegrown population supply, and every brain that gets away reduces the potential like water literally draining from a leaky barrel. But more importantly, it means those states won’t benefit from the new ideas and experiences and the diverse perspectives that true outsiders would bring.

In an in an ever more complex, diverse, rapidly changing globalized economy, a place’s best competitive interest is not well served by having a city or state full of people who’ve never lived anywhere else.

So why do states and cities follow this approach? I think it is probably the same reason that every city and state in the Midwest is seeking the same new industry clusters. Something has to be done and these seem like the most plausible ways to go. If not this program, then what? What do you tell people who are seeing the plants disappear, the brains move away? No leader can simply say, “Sorry, can’t help ya.”

The problem is that programs that would really change game require sustained commitment to the long term, often requiring public policy choices that are not popular, and will only pay off downstream, and without a guarantee of success. It is often easier and more popular, among conservatives and liberals, to focus on boosting graduation rates, “brain drain” programs, or “creative class” flash in the pan programs like having the mayor hob-nob with skateboarders or artists to show that we have “cool cities”. And indeed, these might do some good – but won’t reverse the trend line.

The reality is more difficult. Attracting significant talent over the long term means change and investing to create places the educated want to live – without rendering a place undesirable or unaffordable to everyone else. That’s a really hard problem, because to do it right you can’t just copy Seattle or Portland or Denver or Austin. Tackling those cities at their strongest point by trying to beat them at their own game is a fool’s errand. And they’ve more or less decided to focus only on the educated elite. Instead, you have to think hard, get creative, dig deep and find a unique, compelling, and truly local vision for an environment that will appeal to a segment of the educated classes. It is an absolute imperative. Because smart, talented, ambitious, educated people, the kind who start companies or work in new economy businesses, want to live in a place where the civic aspirations match their personal aspirations.

With some pockets of exceptions, the Midwest is failing to deliver, either for its current residents or the ones it needs to attract to turn around decline.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Public Policy
Cities: Detroit

37 Responses to “Detroit: Out-Migration Devastates Michigan (and the Midwest)”

  1. Robert Gable says:

    “Places like Silicon Valley or New York or London didn’t get to be talent hubs by retaining their home grown talent – they did it by hoovering up everybody else’s talent.”

    Sure, but. As one who migrated from Michigan/Indiana to Silicon Valley in the late eighties, this is a fascinating post.

    But, past history and future prospects continue to look reasonably good here in California so I feel “retained” even if I wasn’t home-grown. The only scenarios where I would relocate out of California are apocalyptic in nature.

    I don’t know if this is a case of the strong getting stronger but as a manager, I haven’t considered in a decade or so hiring any candidates outside the Bay Area and relocating them here. Just not required.

    On the other hand, unemployment here is starting to resemble what I had seen in the past in the Midwest auto towns I had lived in.

  2. The Urbanophile says:

    Robert, thanks for the reply.

    I must say, I love Northern California. It might be my favorite place in the US (apart from the cost of housing and California income taxes).

    A lot of places like that seem to have such an innate draw that people are even willing to suffer hardship to live there or to move there site unseen or without a job, etc. How many people have just packed it up and moved to New York or where ever hoping to make their fortune? A lot.

    The challenge for the Midwest is that it only seems to hold that appeal for natives. If those natives were all high tech entrepreneurs, perhaps there wouldn’t be as big a problem.

    You might not have had to relocate anyone from out of town, but clearly plenty of people got relocated. Probably many of them at their own expense. My cousin just moved to SF from Boston because she wanted to.

    I don’t know that the Midwest will ever be SF, but I think it has to find a way to generate some type of intrinsic attraction to those who weren’t born there. Chicago has done it, but not many other places have.

    If you are committed to staying in NorCal at high cost, ultimately it can limit you. And employers can cash in on that to pay below market. Of course, that sounds like a tradeoff you are willing to make. It’s the topic of a future blog post, but I think a problem in the Midwest is the inability of people to fully reconcile the trade off they are making versus the one they think they are marking. You seem to be a bit more clear eyed on this, however.

  3. Anonymous says:

    his may seem superficial but Hollywood and New York television and movies make it “uncool” to be in the midwest. Endless jokes about Ohio. Maybe the cultural shift is picking on the midwest and it’s embrace or desire for stable factory type towns. Maybe it’s a reaction against the midwestern life in Christmas Story. Maybe it will become cool again.

  4. The Urbanophile says:

    anon 9:24, thanks for the note. There is no doubt that the external brand image of the Midwest is not good. I don’t think we can rely on the good graces of Hollywood to change. We have to take control of our own destiny and force ourselves into the conversation.

    While I am totally with you that we need to change the brand image, I’m not sure “cool” is what we want. What can become cool can become uncool in a hurry. Rather than trying to become the region of the moment or something, I want us to focus on something with appeal that also has staying power. Cool would be something to add on top of that solid foundation.

    I think this is where most programs fall down. They try to position these blue collar, lunch bucket towns as hip and trendy destinations and it just doesn’t work.

    As Jim Russell might put it, “Rust Belt chic” is going to look very different from the coolness factor in the rest of the country.

    Thanks again.

  5. CARR says:

    I think what midwestern cities need to do is find an identity. A personality. Something that is unique to them that they can sell.

    We don’t have the beautiful weather year round and we are not near the ocean, but we must have something to offer.

    I live in Louisville, and every time I talk to somebody that wasn’t born in Louisville they all say the same thing. When they first heard they were moving to Louisville they hated the idea. All they knew was the derby and that was it. Once they got here and stayed a little while they don’t want to leave. I know a lot of people that when it came time to relocate again (work related) they found a way to stay or tried as hard as they could to stay.

    Louisville has tried several times to interview people that fall into that category to see what they have fallen in love in Louisville. I know Greater Louisville Inc and the city have all done it. It’s just hard to put into a 30 sec. commercial that Louisville is just so livable. We have great parks and nice indy art scene, great neighborhoods..etc. It just doesn’t work in a quick sound bite and it really doesn’t do a lot to attract the younger crowd.

    I think Louisville should just try and be the progressive midwestern city. Artsy, quirky funky neighborhoods, and a ton of great parks.

    Every city needs to find its niche.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    The factory is already cool: some of the most desirable neighborhoods are ex-industrial areas of old cities like New York and Boston. Loft apartments (i.e. converted factories) are particularly appealing to artists, and the urban form of 19th century tenements is desirable enough that new buildings imitate it. Sometimes even functional industrial zones gentrify – a good example is Long Island City in Queens.

    Of course, New York attracts artists for other reasons. It’s not just old deindustrialized zones – these are available in Youngstown at far lower cost. It’s old deindustrialized zones located to functioning knowledge economies. Away from the knowledge economy centers and the parts that get spillover, New York’s internal migration numbers are as bad as Michigan’s, and those of Chicago and Boston aren’t much better. Philadelphia is still losing population, though Center City is gaining people and the city as a whole is expected to do so beginning in 2010.

  7. thundermutt says:

    Philadelphia might be another example of thriving on the “knowledge economy” (Penn, Temple, Drexel, and lots of smaller schools) with a “health-care center” kicker (multiple med schools and big pharma) and a traditional-arts complex thrown in.

    Philadelphia, like Boston, has a brand around the history of the founding of the republic.

    Midwestern cities other than Chicago struggle with this. The one clear good example is MSP, which has embraced the one thing it can’t change: the great white frozen northland.

    I am sure that The Urbanophile is tired of my contention that the one midwestern city that really develops a brand around “great place to raise a family” might have a decent shot at making that a real draw. While a certain percentage of the elite will never “settle down” to raise kids, a good chunk will, especially if THEY were raised in the midwest.

  8. The Urbanophile says:

    CARR, I agree with you. I tried to put a unique spin on Louisville with my “Vice City” posting. I think the idea of great parks, quirky, funky, almost college town approach is another.

  9. The Urbanophile says:

    thunder, I’m less opposed to the idea than you might suppose. A couple thoughts.

    1. Smaller cities don’t need to attract huge quantities of the elite, top of the top talent. If you need that, you can simply use money to get them. Rather, there are lots of smart, educated people who don’t fall into that category that you might be able to attract.

    2. Your suggestion might work for Indy, but it is not a solution to the Midwest’s overall woes because it relies on a beggar thy neighbor approach. And actually, it is already happening. I have met people who moved to Indy this decade because of economic problems elsewhere in the Midwest. My thesis is that places like Chicago and Indy are to some extend upscale refugee camps. They are attracting residents partly, though not solely, because of failures elsewhere in the region.

    3. Having said that, there’s a case to be made for being the place to be regionally for being family friendly and close to your roots. Someone told me last week that he thinks his story is a good one to sell: close to home but not too close (see the family, take care of parents, etc), a reasonably healthy economy (obviously not now), and killer cost living (in this guy’s view, you can “take good vacations”).

    What would you suggest the city do to implement such a strategy? One can suggest that Carmel might be one example of it locally.

  10. Kristen says:

    Great post, as always with lots to think about. I just wanted to share a haunting photo essay I’m not sure you’ve seen before. It’s some perspective on outmigration specific to Detroit.

  11. Jim Russell says:

    Two points about domestic migration:

    1) The Bay Area/San Jose MSAs (i.e. Silicon Valley) suffer from net out-migration. High cost of living has been a strong “push” factor for the better part of two decades, perhaps even three. Immigration and natural increase are what keep this region from shrinking. This is also the case for NYC, Boston, and LA. Established immigrant gateways tend to push out upwardly mobile native talent. (Salt Lake City growth is a good example of this kind of talent refugee inflow. I see a lot of it here in the Front Range of Colorado, as well.)

    2) Economically dynamic regions tend to have the highest out-migration rates in the country. Denver is a good example, with Colorado natives increasingly hard to find, but substantial talent in-migration makes that brain drain moot. Relatively low out-migration rates suggest a stagnant economy, unless there is an acute crisis (e.g. SE Michigan). Hence, Rust Belt cities such as Buffalo have experience a dramatic decline in out-migration, but don’t draw enough people to stop the shrinking.

    I tend to think of rapid out-migration as the first step to economic recovery. Essentially, a labor market bubble bursts and the better the educational attainment of the population, the better the geographic mobility.

    Something about Pittsburgh for folks to chew on: While the city has shrunk, real per capita income has grown (1969-2006) more rapidly than any other Rust Belt city, including Chicago. Only Minneapolis/St. Paul comes close and all of the other members of the Rust Belt cohort are below the US average growth. Detroit is the worst performing for this metric.

  12. says:

    Interesting article. One point I wanted to draw is the education thing.

    New York, Chicago, etc, all have these great educational institutions but they trade with each other, it isn’t so much they “lose” people is that they just continuiously trade back and forth among the big cities. Educated city folk are VERY mobile.

    This shows where the midwest’s problem lies. They need this educational power to provide a “trading power” with the big urban environments.

    Portland has achieved this by providing a partially decent education, but even more so a very high standard of life. This is the type of thing that midwest cities have to do.

    As long as they stay auto oriented, with sprawling suburbs, no culture or urban lifestyle beyond the redneck reputation that is unfortunately dragged around with these areas, there won’t be a turnaround.

    …and not to say the Midwest doesn’t provide some genius of its own. I work with a number of people from the Midwest, and every one of them are highly educated, highly mobile, and the top of the top when it comes to sought after individuals. But this is the exact problem, these people left because of that reputation I mentioned and in addition they simply wanted culture, life, and choice.

    All things that generally just aren’t available in the Midwest.

    Those things find resolutions, these things that are attainable, will do volumes of good for the Midwest.

    For now maybe smaller communities and population sizes are ideal. Let it happen and stop fighting it. Instead, figure out what is possible and build a good core center of urban cities with high standards of life and culture. Make the cities interesting and lively beyond 5pm.

    …anyway, I believe I’ve made the point, which you’ve drawn much the same.

  13. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for more great comments.

    Kristen, what a sad photo series.

    Jim, re:the Bay Area. Outmigration yet, but how many people working in Silicon Valley are NorCal natives? I suspect what we are seeing with these types of places is a moving up the food chain and overspecialization in the highest value activities. This crowds out everything out. The elite are moving in, but the next level down is moving out. I think this gives the Midwest opportunities to pick up some of this good talent that is getting displaced out of places like SF, NYC, and Chicago (a Midwest outlier to be sure).

  14. Jim Russell says:

    Jim, re:the Bay Area. Outmigration yet, but how many people working in Silicon Valley are NorCal natives?

    CA is a relatively “inert” state (i.e. large percentage of natives are still living there). So, the out-migration might be of the “bounce” variety (i.e. secondary migration). It is the out-of-state students who are guilty of Californication.

    Here is a report about the geography of innovation in the US:

    Of the big tech states, CA is last in attracting talent from other states. The ranking doesn’t control for population, meaning that the out-of-state attraction rate is abysmal. That suggests high retention of CA natives who graduate from CA colleges and universities.

    My takeaway is to poach out-of-state students at schools such as Stanford or UCLA. Furthermore, brain drain to California is overstated.

  15. thundermutt says:

    Urbanophile, I’d lean more toward the Youngstown solution for most declining Rust Belt cities: downsize. Maybe some “Last one out, turn out the lights” signs for Detroit like Seattle put up in the 1970’s.

    Columbus, Des Moines, and Indy could each pursue the “great place to raise a family” theme. MSP could pitch the refrigerated version. To some degree, I think it’s an unstated part of each city’s continued bucking of the Midwest trends: wise people see the value inherent in life in those “second cities”.

    And we do, after all, have money left over for Colts tickets and nice vacations. :)

    Final note: I have doubts about Carmel’s sustainability both ecologically and financially. Permanent $4 gas will hurt all suburbs. So will carbon taxes. Personally, I prefer “Old Urbanist” suburbs like Meridian-Kessler, Irvington, Butler-Tarkington to artificial versions like Carmel City Centre and West Clay.

  16. Eric Orozco says:

    One thing Michigan can do is become open to new ideas. It’s a chance to really do something new. I think the long term prospects for Michigan is good because of the educational resources and the tabula raza. Rethink the city in retrofitting it. Find not only the cheaper solutions but the finest. As a North Carolinian, let me root for Michigan. Good luck guys! ‘)

  17. Anonymous says:

    From The Urban Politician:

    Okay, Urbanophile, you just created a wonderful post that hits home to my heart, and it’s time to tell my story.

    I grew up in Michigan. I left Michigan about a decade ago for the east coast (mostly out of necessity, not out of desire) and, in my early years, perhaps even took a few shots at my midwestern heritage to gain popularity with my friends. Nevertheless, except for a few years in Tennessee I have lived on the east coast for a while and have truly enjoyed it.

    Now I can’t speak for anybody else, but for some reason I do not feel a sense of pride for the great cities, Universities, etc that we have out east. I still have a soft side for the midwest.

    Having said that, as you know I associate myself most with Chicago because it is the only place in the midwest that gives me that pride and ‘wow’ feeling that you get out east.

    Recently I had two choices–keep my lower salary in New York City or take a much higher salary in a town about an hour north of Chicago (in Wisconsin). I made the decision to move, and I will be moving this summer.

    I’m sure others would have chosen to stay in NYC, just for the sake of being in one of the world’s greatest cities, instead of some cold place in small-town Wisconsin–but I don’t see it that way. I know EXACTLY what kind of life I can have in the midwest, an advantage from having lived there.

    I know that I can have a beautiful lakefront house for half the price of anything on the coasts. I will have access to all the shopping, resources, etc that I experienced elsewhere because I know what Chicago has to offer. People who live in a “coastal only” mentality are handicapped, IMO. And I really mean that–I really think they are handicapped.

    I consider myself “blessed” (in quotations since I’m actually an atheist) to have gotten to know the midwest and what it offers. This may sound corny, but there is NO DOUBT IN MY MIND that it is a jewel that remains undiscovered, and frankly I’m fine with that.

    Let Chicago remain our conduit to the global world. All I ask is that we strengthen our conduits to Chicago. Lets tidy up these intercity rail systems, but more importantly, lets just enjoy ourselves and let New Yorkers and San Fransiscoans pretend they have a better life

  18. The Urbanophile says:

    Eric, you hit one of the key points I’ve tried to stress over and over in this blog. Many Midwest cities are conceptually obsolete. Trying to renew the past will never work. The city has to be re-imagined before it can be re-built.

    UP, thanks for the personal story. I hope you like Racine. The good news is how close it is to downtown Chicago via Amtrak. You’re going to already have that rail link.

    There is some type of bifurcation of talent going on as places like Chicago become more home to the highest demand labor and other places the next tier lower (not always, that’s a trend, not a concrete rule – there’s elite talent in every Midwest city). I’ve written on it before, but how can we bridge the gap between those places to create a stronger offering in the market?

  19. Alon Levy says:

    Jim: to at least some extent, the outmigration from LA and the Bay Area is overstated. Both have very tightly drawn metro area boundaries, and both have a lot of exurbs further inland: LA has the Inland Empire, the Bay Area Stockton, Modesto, and Merced. What happened in both areas earlier this decade is that very high housing prices pushed people into the exurbs. Now that the housing bubble popped, there’s some return migration – the Inland Empire’s growth markedly slowed down after 2007, while LA County’s picked up.

    The real population exporters are on the East Coast. It’s not just that they’re immigrant gateways – LA and SF attract as many immigrants as New York and more than the other East Coast cities. It’s that they’ve run out of room. New York’s boomburg region is in Pike County, Pennsylvania, 80 km from the nearest edge city and 117 km from Manhattan. Everything between Pike County and New York is fully built out. This raises housing costs even in the exurbs, so people relocate elsewhere.

  20. Lord Peter says:

    Thanks for a very interesting post.

    I moved to Indiana from another state for grad school (IU has some exceptional programs (as does Purdue…)), and ended up getting a job in the state and staying. As only a handful of people in my program were from IN, I think that education does have an important role to play in encouraging in-migration. (Of course, if both IU-B and Purdue were located in Indy, the effect would be *much* more significant, IMO.)

    Unfortunately, media portrayals of the midwest are generally negative and have been for some time (i.e., Frank Burns was from Ft. Wayne, Hawkeye from the Northeast…), and it doesn’t look like this will change any. Also unfortunately, this is very important…I moved to B’ton maybe 10 years after Breaking Away came out; that was the most exposure I had to B’ton before moving there, and the generally positive portrayal of the town made moving there sight unseen seem less risky.

    Which points out one important issue for branding – many people don’t have a negative view of cities in the midwest; they have no view at all. Which may be worse.

    “Family friendly” branding is risky. When I think family friendly, I can’t help but think of suburbs and chain restaurants; I don’t think that’s a very appealing brand. Having said that, I do know several people who have moved (back) to Indy from Chicago as well as large East Coast cities specifically to raise their kids. What drew them was the fact that there was a decent amount of interesting things to do in Indy *and* it was much easier to raise kids here.

    It is, however, significant that they were from here originally; they already knew that there were good places to live, cultural activities, etc. People from other places would generally draw a blank, I think…which is why branding of some sort would be useful.

    Other friends who visit from Chicago are also impressed by how easy it is to do things in Indy – I’m in BR, so for 8-9 months we can walk everywhere; the Children’s Museum is a quick drive; downtown isn’t too far away, and if we go to Conner Prairie, it is still much faster than going from Chicago to Ravinia. (Also, CP is in many ways better…)

    And of course housing is very affordable here (now even more so…).

    I’m not sure how to wrap this all into a brand though – I don’t think that family friendly is quite right, and “convenience” doesn’t sound that appealing, either. Even though, as a consumer of art and cultural goods generally, I appreciate how much easier it is for me to go to plays and concerts in Indy than it is in Chicago. “Almost as good, and much more accessible” isn’t going to inspire many people to pack their bags, I suppose.

  21. Anonymous says:

    The Urban Politician:

    Quick anecdote: I was in the grocery store today (here in Queens) and the checkout lady was talking wit me. I happened to mention that I had recently visited the folks in Michigan and that groceries in New York were so much so expensive.

    Here response was something along the lines of “Michigan is so cold. Is it near Montana?”

    Granted, we’re talking about an uneducated grocery store checkout lady, but still–if you want to talk about perceptions, there you go.

    Montana? I still can’t get over that..

  22. JG says:

    Rebranding midwest cities might be as simple as branding them as “American Cities.” The idea making a distinction between Pittsburgh, Cinncinnati, and Indianapolis and global cities like Chicago, New York City, and Seatle.

    I strongly believe one key to this is creating higher density in the aging urban cores. “American City” says just that and the physical city has to resemble just that. Midwest cities are in a great position to make this happen by redeveloping blighted areas in the urban core and on the fringe with new urban office and technology districts – taking the idea of tech or office parks out of the suburb and reinvinting them close to central business districts, with true urban design. Key to this would be mixed use development so these areas become highly diversified with talent from around the country who can choose to work and live together. Suburban office parks and tech parks fail in that they become vacant after 5pm when everyone retreats to uninspiring neighborhoods or apartment complexes – it’s too boring. (Some cities are working on this.)

    “American City” might not be the best phrase, but the idea is to appeal broad. It avoids saying we’re hip and cool like NYC (and sounding foolish), without saying “great place to raise a family” and alienating younger talent.

    Midwest cities have the chance to attract new businesses, RETAIN AND ATTRACT TALENT, and actually again become great American cities.

  23. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the continued good comments. While I do think that the Midwest has to change its brand, brand != marketing, and there is a danger in looking at this as a marketing problem. The Midwest’s failure isn’t a marketing failure. The product is simply not what it needs to be. That clearly needs to be address. Most Midwest cities need major change to make themselves more attractive to the next generation workforce.

  24. Carl says:

    Urbanophile’s last post hit the nail on the head. It’s a “product” problem.

    In America, people are not forced to live anywhere they don’t want to live. They vote with their wallets and with their feet.

    Midwestern cities cannot be all things to all people. But, they have to something to somebody.

    Leadership cannot lead if they don’t know what that something is.

  25. CARR says:

    it is a product problem. Each city is going to have to develop a distinct personality and run with it. Finding and exploiting that personality and then making it relevant is going to be difficult.

    One thing the midwest has going for it is that it’s affordable, but thats not enough. Great neighborhoods, schools. Not enough. We need that wow factor and we just don’t have it. Well. Chicago does. The rest of the midwest I’m not so sure.

    The Midwest could try a regional approach. Merge together to stay relevant. But I don’t think regionalism is the answer. Unless each city in the region decides that it will concentrate on a group of initiatives. Say Indy goes after Bio-tech, Louisville takes on indy film/arts, and Cincy does something else. Then they can sell themselves as a collective. But I don’t see that happening.

    As for what each midwestern should do I have no idea. I have a good idea what my home town of Louisville should do. The Urbanophile has some pretty good ideas about Indy. I would say that Cincinnati is the worst shape going forward. It’s just so conservative. It acts like an anchor on the city. Keeping it in place.

    The answer to the problem of product is going an individual one. Each city is going to have figure it out for themselves. I think Louisville is moving in the right direction. It’s just moving at a moderate pace, but it’s moving. If the credit market improves we will have one of the most unique buildings in the world with Museum Plaza. Regardless of economy we will have one of the best urban park systems anywhere. We are adding bike paths at a tremendous rate. We slowly becoming the progressive artsy midwest city.

  26. David says:

    Enough with the Cincinnati as conservative meme. It certainly doesn’t fit the city itself and it is questionable whether it fits the region. Parochial undoubtedly, but conservative not so much anymore. I’d add that the research power of the University of Cincinnati is at a high R1 level and supports a top-notch research hospital system. It is true that Ohio supports more R1, R2, and D1 schools than most states and much of that does end up for export. Neither here nor there.

    I wanted to bounce off the idea of Midwestern cities as having the leaving but not too far situation. The irony of course is that no city can win this fight. As an example – Cincinnati. They go to Columbus, Indy, Chicago, Louisville/Lexington, Dayton (but then they’ve really just moved into the exurbs), Cleveland, and even as far as Nashville. But Cincinnati gathers in the same kind of folks from all those towns. Of course, Cincinnatians don’t end up in MSP or Milwaukee in any major numbers because by the time you’ve gone that far you might as well go to D.C..

    Weather does seem to matter for some people and in the long term that benefits the Ohio Valley over the Great Lakes and Upper Midwest, but Kentucky’s inability to regain its Western identity rather than Southern/Mountain hurts all of the cities that tap into as a hinterland – Cincy, Cbus, Louisville, Indy, et al.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I think that the auto industry is the definitely the reason here – Detroit’s metro had continued to grow, even if modestly until recently. I don’t know about the other Michigan metros though.

    However, as you yourself have documented, Columbus and Indy continue to do well. The Twin Cities and Chicago are also attractive and educated cities.

    As someone who was a kid in the
    80s when the steel industry imploded, I saw real loss and I see some of that now appears to be happening in Detroit.

    However, at least if the Big 3 can get their act together, at least Detroit has the potential to be innovative in its industry again.

    Pittsburgh no longer makes steel.

    The plus side is – although a painful transition, Pgh has its rivers back, with new housing and tech related companies along them as well as progess via Pitt, Carnegie Mellon and other efforts.

    Things are finally coming together, but it takes time.

    I would avoid silly marketing efforts and irrational “keep talent” efforts especially when it comes to young professionals.

    20 (and 30) somethings come and go and for a variety of reasons.

    I am no longer in Pittsburgh, but is has nothing to do with the city (which I love) or lack of jobs.

    It’s just my particular situation, that am in another part of the country right now – but I moved some years ago, because I felt like I needed to experience someplace else, so I spent some time in different cities.

    Whatever MI does, it can’t be some cute slogan or a family friendly initiative that won’t attract families who can’t get jobs there. It needs to work on jobs and whatever efforts can help jobs or industries that the region can benefit from/grow with….

    That applies to all cities of course (and of course it’s easier to say that than actually get that momentum going)


  28. pete-rock says:

    I'm new to this blog, and I find the articles and comments fascinating. I'm glad to see these kinds of discussions happening here. I'm a native Detroiter who moved in the '80s, spent seven years in Indiana, and I've lived in the Chicago area for the last 20 years.

    A lot of the ideas listed here are right on — yes, the Midwest does have an image problem, and it does have a product problem. I believe it also has a bit of a culture problem that underlies the first two points. From what I've read on this blog so far, the culture problem has been fairly well described — a desire to restore our places to "the way things were," an undervaluation of education, a stubbornness that prevents regional or local cooperation and even some rigidity toward improving racial relations. I've always thought that once the culture problems are resolved, the product problem is much easier to fix and we're better equipped to create a new image.

    Here's a question that might be off-the-wall, but I think it's legit: what role could global climate change have in reversing Midwest out-migration? Specifically, if Vegas, Phoenix, LA, and even Atlanta and Charlotte, run out of water, will people relocate to the Rust Belt? People gotta drink water, and Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee have plenty of it. Even Indy, Columbus, Cinti and Minny (compared to the Sun Belt).

    And one last point. I think Detroit missed a HUGE opportunity in the early '70s that would've made the economic restructuring there much easier to deal with. When Motown was still there, Detroit could've turned itself into an R&B version of Nashville — a haven for artists, musicians, sound engineers, producers and studio execs who would create not just a Motown sound but a new R&B sound. Detroit could've had its version of Nashville's Music Row. In fact, it still could — Detroit is still a place where there is creativity in music genres like hip-hop and techno/electronica. What about a SXSW-type festival in Detroit?

    Other cities have similar "brands" to exploit.

  29. Jim Russell says:

    Jim: to at least some extent, the outmigration from LA and the Bay Area is overstated. Both have very tightly drawn metro area boundaries, and both have a lot of exurbs further inland: LA has the Inland Empire, the Bay Area Stockton, Modesto, and Merced. What happened in both areas earlier this decade is that very high housing prices pushed people into the exurbs.

    Alon: I’m not so sure the out-migration is overstated. The exodus to states such as Washington, Nevada, and Colorado is well documented. I know, personally, many Bay Area refugees along the Front Range of CO. Many of them still telecommute and prefer the what they term a better quality of life than what they had in CA.

    Nonetheless, you make a good point about those who simply leave the MSA but remain instate. Most relocation is “local”. That’s true for the Rust Belt, as well. Even the best apples typically don’t fall far from the tree.

  30. thundermutt says:

    Couldn’t resist this. Greg Ballard is mayor of Indianapolis:

    Ballard Robbed in Detroit
    By Amber Stearns

    Mayor Greg Ballard was not hurt, but his cell phone was stolen Saturday while he was in Detroit for the NCAA Final Four.

    The mayor was walking back to his hotel when he saw a man who looked like he was having a seizure.

    Ballard walked over to help him and police say he was surrounded by three or four others who took his phone. The man faking the seizure then jumped up and ran off.

  31. CARR says:

    I didn’t mean to offend you with the Cincinnati is conservative meme, but that is the impression I have gotten from the city on my numerous visits.

    I do agree with you about the weather comment. The weather tends to be much milder in the Ohio valley. However, I really don’t see Kentucky regaining any of its western heritage. Kentucky is content on being a southern state. Louisville is a different story. The city holds on to some of its western values, but it also holds onto its southern and midwestern heritage just as much.

    Louisville has somewhat of an identity crisis. We are far enough south to almost be a southern city, but we are also far enough north to almost be a true midwestern city. We are also far enough west (from a historical standpoint) that we have some of those values as well. Hence our identity crisis. We are still trying to figure that part out.

    It also doesn’t help that Louisville and the state of Kentucky are usually at odds. Louisville is in Kentucky, but it doesn’t feel like Kentucky. It’s almost like Louisville is it’s own state within a state. As you can imagine this leads to a lot of conflict. But I digress.

    I also agree that for the most part most of the midwestern cities are just trading people. Some just do a better job of it than others. The trick is getting people form outside the region.

  32. David says:

    I wasn’t really offended, just annoyed because it is such a common trope. Cincinnati has long had a similar problem with its relationship to Ohio – and FWIW, Northern Kentucky doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the state either. The situation at NKU is probably the best evidence. I agree about Kentucky but it a retarding factor we have to consider.

  33. Alon Levy says:

    Random fact:

    McCain won the Cincinnati CSA with 57% of the two party vote, which is a higher margin than the one he won Phoenix by. Meanwhile, Obama won the Cleveland CSA 61-39 and the Indy and Columbus CSAs 52-48.

  34. The Urbanophile says:

    Alon, that is a very interesting fact.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Bush also won Hamilton county which is amazing to win the core city county of a metro – at least outside of the South or place like Utah perhaps.

    I don’t know which candidate won that county last fall though.

  36. Alon Levy says:

    Obama won Hamilton County 53-46. He also won Salt Lake County, by 300 votes. The only metro areas in the top 50 where Obama didn’t win the central county are Phoenix, Jacksonville, Oklahoma City, and Greenville.

  37. Michael Pereckas says:

    I’ve been hearing the ‘brain drain’ thing most of my life but it never really feels like I’m actually going very far away. I went ‘away’ to high school, but in a different suburb of the same city. I guess that’s ‘brain drain’ if you manage one suburb’s school district, but it’s not like I really went away. Then I went to college quite a bit farther away, but in the state, so that counts as staying home, I suppose. I looked for work there when I graduated, but couldn’t find anything that had any connection to the education I’d just spent all that time and money on. Eventually I moved to a city a bit north of where I’d started from, closer to my old home than the college was, but on the other side of the state line, so there I am, ‘draining away.’ But it’s not like I moved across the sea and learned a new language. It’s just the neighboring big(ish) city. Not only can you not blame the Michigan graduates for moving to where they could find work, but moving 225 miles away to Chicago doesn’t even count as moving away to them, it’s only a drain in terms of the arbitrary boundary lines.

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