Brookings on "The Vital Center", rebuilding the Great Lakes Region

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A reminded to myself to read this later, and a pointer to all of you whom I know will be interested: The Vital Center: A Federal-State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region.

From the executive summary:

With one foot planted in a waning industrial era, the other in the emerging global economy, the region is teetering between a future marked by growth and innovation, and one that conforms to the “Rust Belt” label applied to the region due to the decline of its factory-based economy.

The time is now for Great Lakes leaders to articulate a meaningful agenda for what the states of the region and the federal government can do together to ensure that this economic giant steps in the right direction.
. . .
These innovations, if implemented, will help the 12 Great Lakes states to surmount their common challenges, leverage their common assets and opportunities, and together reassert their economic leadership in the nation, and the world. They fall broadly into educational, economic, social, and infrastructure initiatives: ...

Now, it being Brookings, the executive summary's bullet point recommendations, prefectly expectedly, don't go as far as I'd like them to in terms of examining opportunities to rebuild local/regional economies. But I still expect the report to be worth reading.

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It's hard for local types to share the power ... but cities, townships, counties, and states are finding many ways to cooperate. Private institutions, like corporations have been cooperating, forming joint ventures, and/or merging for greater power and efficiency for a long time. The European Union, beginning with the signing of the Brussels Treaty in 1948 and ending with the successful formation of an effective body to manage commerce and financial dealing as recently as 1999, indicates that mutual interests even on a continental scale can be found to outweigh local interests.

What began with a few French traders in bateaus paddling around in Lake Huron and expanded with the Louisiana Purchase, the discovery of copper, the railroads, and the Erie Canal, among other things, are what opened up the Great Lakes to mining, steel making, heavy industry, manufacturing and transportation of finished goods back to the East, eventually to the world. Today, we are one of several dozens of manufacturing centers around the world, less in demand for our goods and services than ever before.

What our local and state leaders lack, I am afraid, is the imagination and creativity to truly look at what we have to offer here and to reinvent the Great Lakes Regional economy into something as unique as "The Arsenal of Democracy" once made us to be. I have seen that lack of courage, imagination and creativity right here in Ypsilanti for the last 25+ years ... same old stuff ... simply fighting among ourselves to hang on to what little slice of the pie the auto industry could serve.

We can neither taut our labor pool as unique, nor compete with Europe, much less the devloping world on labor cost or finished goods. Low cost doesn't always trump, however. Best in quality, superior goods and services, ARE trump cards. I think we have the potential to be the best.

Also, we hold in our hands a number of truly unique blessings: 1) a great share of what the world sorely needs ... namely, fresh water, that fuels a very special ecology found nowhere else on the planet, 2) a near-perfect, four-season climate, 3) an active, quite varied, and very nearly stable, family owned and operated agricultural system, which sustains us, 4) a solid and uniformly maintained highway system, linking the entire region, even into Canada, plus 5) the potential for a revivable, public rail system which could be redeveloped to speed regional commerce and aid commuting, and also, 6) a traditional egalitarian culture brought here from our beginnings and maintained to today through a love of higher education, the arts and social welfare ... that midwestern spirit that characterizes the folk that are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario.

Look at our small towns, our architecture, our many small colleges, and our system of State Universities and Colleges ... we are truly unique. And THESE elements we can use to attract new people, new business, new tourists.

As our largest cities become even more cosmopolitan with new waves of immigrants ... our story takes on new dimensions and becomes even easier to tell. Yes, we have a history. And we should preserve what remains and learn to tell that history well. But we need to create a future for ourselves and our children, and others yet to come. That's up to US. WE have to create what it is we want, and command our politicians to figure out how it can be done and to get it done.