Blog: John Austin

John Austin is our guest blogger this week. John is a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and vice president of the Michigan State Board of Education.

John has been examining the economic strengths and opportunities of the Great Lakes region as detailed in the Brookings Institution report: The Vital Center, A Federal- State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region

Check back here every weekday for new posts.

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Post 5

All week we have been examining the economic strengths and opportunities of what I like to call the “former Rust Belt” region.

While we are well aware of our problems and challenges, there are real opportunities for the Great Lakes region to lead our nation's economic resurgence.
We are uniquely placed to generate the educated talent needed to compete with China and India. Similarly, we are a region that excels in basic and applied research & development. These attributes will establish the energy independence, knowledge services, and life science technologies the United States needs to compete. Just as our Universities created the first Internet and search capability, we are hard at work on Internet2.

But there is another important reason why the nation should pay attention to the Great Lakes region.  The battleground states that largely decided the last two Presidential elections were here in the Great Lakes region. We are poised to play a similarly decisive role again in 2008.

In 2000 and 2004, 8 of the 15 states with the narrowest margins of victory were in the Great Lakes region, constituting by far the largest share of electoral votes. These states include Iowa and Wisconsin where victory margins were less than 1 percent, and big electoral vote states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, that were decided by less than 2 percent of votes cast.

Now is the perfect time for leaders within the region to articulate a focused and effective agenda around what matters tangibly for Great Lakes states economic vitality. We are in a position to make sure real ideas, not just rhetoric, inform this wide-open Presidential contest, and the agenda of the next Administration.

For what some of these ideas might be check the Brookings Institution report: The Vital Center, A Federal- State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region.

Post No. 4

Taken as a whole, the Great Lakes region is an enormous economic engine. Along with the highly integrated Canadian economy just across its border, it is one of the world’s largest industrial-production centers, trade originators, and consumer marketplaces.

The population of the 12 states in total is 97 million. The major metropolitan areas clustered in the corridor from Milwaukee/Chicago to Cleveland and Pittsburgh to the east approaches 40 million, making it second only to the Eastern seaboard as a highly integrated economic 'mega-region.'

According to World Business Chicago analysis, with the inclusion of Ontario, the Great Lakes region constitutes the third largest 'country' product in the world—larger than that of the UK, Germany and China, and second only to Japan and the US whole.

As such, it is one of only a worldwide handful of large urbanized and networked regions that are increasingly the global hubs of the economic activity and growth.

The most successful regions and communities today are burgeoning “supercities." Belts of urbanized communities are home to global firms, populations, and universities that participate in and shape the world. They are vital to the exchange of ideas, people, culture, fashion, products, and services.

The Great Lakes region is in the vanguard of global connectivity.

Analysis by the Globalization and World Cities project categorizes cities based on a number of indicators including: the nature and number of firms in a region that were at the center of global services provision, international business travel activity, and infrastructures for global commerce (airports etc).

Based on this analysis, Chicago and Toronto are "Alpha' world cities and Minneapolis-St. Paul is “emerging.” Detroit/Southeast Michigan, and Cleveland are reemerging as global entrepots, sharing several of characteristics of global leaders, including well-developed air transportation infrastructure.

When you have to play globally to be a player in today’s economy, these cities make the Great Lakes a force to be reckoned with.

Tomorrow: Political Clout

Post No. 3

One of our greatest economic assets --and a potential platform for growth-- are the environmental attributes of our region. 

As the nation’s “North Coast,” the Great Lakes possess unique natural resources and amenities that matter to today’s knowledge economy. 

The Great Lakes themselves include one-fifth of the world’s freshwater (a scarce global asset) – giving us the natural infrastructure to support long-term sustainable grow. With plentiful fresh water and lack of natural disasters that mark the Sunbelt and other U.S. coasts (hurricanes, earthquakes), our economic development is less vulnerable and more efficiently sustainable.

Today’s knowledge worker values the opportunity to live and work with access to a clean, green environment. The 10,900 miles of Great Lakes coastline --along with our rivers, forests, inland lakes and scenic areas-- provide for a rich quality of life. We have a large number of recreation/environment-based economic activities (tourism, boating, fishing, outdoor sports, etc.), as well as opportunities for water-based commercial and residential development.

 To support national sustainable development, and the growth of populations and the economy in the Great Lakes region—the nation and region should build out this “North Coast." This would require developing strategic water-based economic projects, cross-state branding, promotion of the region initiatives, improved public access to lakes and waterways, and effective federal state compact to clean up the Great Lakes.

Tomorrow: Supercities

Post No. 2

I'd like to share with you some of the analysis and insights gleaned from the Brookings year long-study of economic strengths and weaknesses in the Great Lakes economic region.

You can read this study-- The Vital Center: A Federal- State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region --by clicking the link.

In identifying the region's core strengths, the Great Lakes communities are still considered an economic powerhouse and great social innovators. We are recognized as central to the future prosperity of the US as a whole. 

Ongoing innovation is the coin of the realm in today’s global knowledge economy.  And central to innovation is talent; well educated people.

The Great Lakes States are the nation’s largest talent-creation platform. With 33 percent of U.S. population, they produced 38 percent of U.S. bachelor degrees, 36 percent of science and engineering degrees, and 37 percent of advanced science and engineering degrees in 2003—outstripping all other regions. 

According to the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 19 of the world’s 100 top-ranked universities are Great Lakes institutions (21 including those on the Canadian side)—compared with only 15 in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic, and 13 on the West Coast. 

The great public and land-grant universities in the region are truly global, advancing intellectual discourse and discovery, and facilitating the exchange of people, ideas and commerce across the world —while being firmly anchored in America’s heartland.

Joined with more than 300 of Fortune 1000 firms, and bountiful private sector R& D centers headquartered in the region, the Great Lakes States create 32 percent of the nation’s new intellectual property, ideas and technologies.

This talent and innovation infrastructure make the Great Lakes region, the potential source and site for innovation in emerging sectors like energy and transportation, IT, life/bio/medical science, and new materials, products and processes.

Tomorrow: The "North Coast."

Post No. 1

The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, in partnership with  leaders throughout the region, is engaged in a multi-year initiative to improve the economic vitality of the Great Lakes region.  

Stretching west from the Alleghenies of New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys and upward through the Great Lakes, on into eastern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri, this region shares not only a common geography but also an important economic and social history.

The economic opportunities and challenges for these states and  communities --“tarred” with the Rust Belt label-- are tremendous.  These realities are summarized in a framing report entitled The Vital Center: A Federal State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region.

I want to take this week to tick off the major highlights, offer some recommendations for action, and invite your help in moving our economic revitalization effort along.

The Great Lakes region, and the people who populated and developed it, led the industrial and agricultural revolutions, pioneering innovations from the auto to the Internet, the airplane to the interstate, the labor movement to the land-grant university.

While ruling the industrial era, the economic primacy of the region has diminished during the past generation, as its manufacturing based economy has been exposed to intense global competition.  

Yet, the region retains huge assets that can contribute to its economic re-birth and to our nation’s overall competitiveness.

As I will lay out this week— we are the largest generator of talent and highly educated people in the world; a vital center of innovation and research and development in nationally vital economic sectors.

Our water and natural resources are a unique platform that can afford sustainable economic growth.

With a highly integrated bi-national economy and a trading relationship with Canada, we are the only US region poised to create a functioning international economic “super-region” to rival those in the EU, Asia and elsewhere.

Through state, regional and federal policy actions, these assets can be leveraged to support economic growth in today’s knowledge led economic-era.

...more tomorrow...

Photograph by Peter Schottenfels - All Rights Reserved
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