The road to economic revival in the Heartland runs through older industrial cities

Posted on May 15, 2018

Even as the U.S. economy hits new highs, the political and economic divide between America’s coastal cities and the rest of the country remain a focal point of the national debate. Amid this rising regional inequality, the question of how to revive broad-based economic growth in the middle of the country has received substantial attention.

In our new report, we contend that policymakers who are serious about revitalizing the Heartland should focus on the region’s older industrial cities (OICs). These places—including large urban areas like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, as well as smaller communities like Albany, Ga., Janesville, Wisc., and Dubuque, Iowa—once formed the backbone of America’s manufacturing economy, but have since struggled to transition to a more digital economy. Despite their challenges, these cities and their considerable economic assets could help accelerate that transition for regions of our country at risk of being left behind.

OICs still have substantial economic heft

Because the tech industry powers disproportionate economic growth in America today, global cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco tend to dominate the headlines. In reality, however, OICs remain significant economic centers: They contain one-eighth of U.S. population, jobs, and output. They account for even higher shares of population and economic activity in 13 states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, as well as traditional manufacturing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

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