My latest piece in City Journal is a look at the interior of the country and its future. It’s an introductory survey that points out that there isn’t a simple coasts vs. the rest, but that there are many distinct regions and cities with varying performance. Many interior regions and cities are doing very well while others legitimately struggle. But in most cases there are still significant hurdles that need to be addressed. Here’s an excerpt:
Cultural attitudes can also be crippling, particularly in the Rust Belt and rural areas. There’s a deep hostility to change and often an active suppression of the pursuit of excellence. In some communities, young people find their college ambitions squelched. Other communities have seen so little influx of newcomers that they’ve become culturally narrow and unwelcoming to outsiders, making it hard to build social networks in these insular places. Changing this social trait won’t be easy—yet it is, arguably, essential to all future change. The fact that the civic attitude in Columbus, Indiana, is so different from that of much of the Midwest is a key reason that it has outperformed.
Third, the region needs to develop its human capital. Today’s manufacturing jobs often require computer or other technical skills, for example, so communities need labor-force training programs to help workers develop advanced skills in these sectors. The knowledge-worker labor force also needs upgrades. The heartland suffers because of the “superstar” effect. In today’s world, the spoils often go to the very top of the hierarchy. The heartland is too often good, even very good, but not the best. An exception that proves the rule is Carnegie Mellon University’s computer-science department, which attracted companies like Uber and Google to set up shop in Pittsburgh. The heartland needs to develop more such leading departments in its universities and attract some top talent. To do that, changes in cultural attitudes will be crucial.
Finally, the nation’s interior regions need to find ways to innovate in new, next-generation industries and technologies. The fracking revolution is an example of a homegrown technology disruption that developed local wealth and jobs, while having a global impact on energy prices. Until the heartland can start leading with some of its own innovative industries and technologies, it will always be in a reactive position. It needs to learn how to play offense, not just defense.
Click through to read the whole thing.