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Jun 5, 201811:46 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Signs of ‘Rust Belt renaissance’ evident in Wisconsin, Upper Midwest

(page 1 of 2)

At the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, most speakers and panelists will focus on the skills, connections, and tactics necessary for emerging companies. One discussion will drill into a larger question tied to the overall outlook: Is the Midwest a good place for young companies or not?

A breakout session on Tuesday, “Rust Belt renaissance: How the Midwest is being reborn,” will examine trends and research that suggest the nation’s heartland is building a stronger, more diverse economic base through strategies that leverage technology and talent, as well as rich legacies in agriculture, manufacturing, and higher education.

It’s one of more than 15 features that will attract 500 or more people to Union South on the UW–Madison campus for the two-day conference.

No region of the United States was hit harder by the recession that began in earnest 10 years ago than the Midwest. Unemployment soared, factories shuttered, and survival was the order of the day. Crisis spawned innovation, however, as traditional industries modernized and new industries and companies emerged to take the place of those that didn’t make the cut.

Several national publications of late have focused on renewed luster in the Rust Belt.

In December 2017, the Brookings Institution examined a core Midwestern asset — higher education — as a driver of economic activity. It noted that 20 of the world’s top 200 universities are in the Rust Belt, roughly defined as ranging from western New York to St. Louis, Mo., and they’re contributing to the economies around them.

“Research and learning institutions have been major contributors to the economic transformation and revival of many of the region’s major metro areas,” wrote John C. Austin of Brookings, who listed Madison as one example.

A New York Times column from May 1, headlined “Lessons from Rust Belt cities that kept their sheen,” examined why some cities and regions have fought back from decline and others have not. Author Eduardo Porter cited smart development policies, higher education, workforce retention, the right investments, and “sheer serendipity.”

Porter cited a study that charted population growth in 185 counties that were “industrial” in 1970 by percentage of jobs. Of the 185 counties, 70 lagged the U.S. growth rate and 115 exceeded it. Wisconsin had four lagging counties and nine that beat the average.

(Continued)

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Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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