I got quite a bit of feedback on my posts about Midwest game changers. I thought I’d hoist some of the comments to share with everyone.
Richard Longworth proposes a Midwest Marshall Plan:
The Marshall Plan pumped billions into Europe’s post-war economy, but this money came with a big string attached. The European countries had to create the programs themselves, and they had to do it in consultation and collaboration with each other. This was asking a lot, considering these countries had just stopped killing each other. But the dream of recovery, coupled with the sheer amount of money, brought them together. The result was a bunch of joint international projects, plus a European payments union, plus a lowering of national trade barriers, plus the creation of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, which has since morphed into the OECD, plus a habit of cooperation that led first to the Coal and Steel Community, which led to the European Economic Community, which led to the EU. Economists differ on how much good the Marshall money made, since it only started in 1948, when some recovery was under way. But by insisting on a regional approach – on the Europeans working together as Europeans, as citizens of a region, not just France or Norway – the Plan instilled transnational approaches that continue to this day. Not all of Europe benefitted from this – areas like the Lorraine and Wallonia suffer to this day – but the whole continent sure did. So how does this translate to the Midwest? I’d urge federal grants that play to the Midwest’s advantage – in energy, say, or water, or bio, or nano – but insist on cooperation between states (of which there is hardly any now) or across state lines. Seen from Chicago, such an approach would mean joint economic development projects for the entire Chicago region, from Milwaukee down into northern Indiana and western Michigan, which would enable this natural region to act as a real region, while freeing it form the idiotic rivalries of its various states. Grants wouldn’t go to a single university but to a consortium of universities. Instead of focusing on Cleveland, projects would embrace the greater Cleveland area, stretching even toward Pittsburgh. Right now, people are thinking about Janesville, Paul Ryan’s home and the victim of that big GM closing: why not think instead of the Rock Valley, from Beloit and Janesville down into Illinois and Rockford? And so on. You get the idea.
This is a potential solution to rkcookjr’s observation:
Somewhat related, if there is any way to get some sort of effective multi-state cooperative effort — like what already exists to protect the Great Lakes — that might be helpful. As much as other states love to pig-pile on Illinois and its very real problems, I’m not sure anyone in the Midwest really wins when you have one state bidding against another all the time. Multi-unit government cooperation is always a difficult play, but at some point there needs to be recognition that cooperative efforts can rebrand the whole region, and in the end everyone wins when that happens.
brecchie1 offers (abridged list):
Dedicate more of infrastructure spending to maintenance rather than new building: This subtle change would benefit legacy cities over sprawling suburbs. While it would have nationwide effects, it would also disproportionately benefit the older cities of the Midwest.
A Rust Belt Regional Commission: A federally supported body, modeled on the Appalachian Regional Commission, that identifies barriers to growth and prosperity in the region.
National right to unionize: A Constitutional amendment that gives workers the right to unionize and abolishes “right to work” laws. Much reduces the beggar-thy-neighbor approach of Sun Belt states poaching Midwestern manufacturing jobs. Workers would still have to worry about their jobs moving overseas, but that’s a bigger lift for a company than moving to Mississippi. Side benefit: existing workers in Mississippi can finally unionize.
Owen Alexander Thomas says:
The Great Lakes region, from Chicago to Toronto needs a body to standardize trade documents, legal contracts, work visas, cross-licensing and other soft forms of business infrastructure the way they already do for ports and rail crossings. someone in Buffalo should have no problem selling to a business or contracting to provide services in Hamilton, Ontario a few miles a way. A divided market loses scale and is necessarily inefficient and the Great Lakes is much less integrated as a trade area than it should be given the incredibly low costs of shipping materials around the region and the volume of agricultural and other resources produced within 100 miles of a port on one of the lakes.
Eddie in NorCal offers:
Midwest institutions, including state/local employee pension plans, university endowments, foundations and family offices are significant Limited Partners, i.e., investors, in many VC funds. If these LP’s were to invest a meaningful amount of funds in more locally concentrated VC firms, the number of startups in the same geographies will increase. It’s at least possible, if not probable, that the ROI on such funds would trail that of the top tier of coastal-based VC firms. But the economic dividends from such a strategy would be an important offset, particularly for public institutions such as the aforementioned universities and state/local government employees.
There are other ideas and quite a bit more discussion in the previous article comment section.