As the country is wrenched from the industrial age into a new era of globalization, no region is suffering more than the Mid-West, Richard Longworth, senior fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, told attendees of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange national conference in Milwaukee yesterday.
The Mid-West was the Silicon Valley of the early 20th Century. The region has long depended on the foundation laid by distant forbearers: Ford, Edison and Wright, he said.
“We aren’t coping with this very well,” said the former Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent in international economics. “We’ve lost the knack for innovation.”
Mid-Western students are trained to lead large, established corporations, not to develop the kind of dynamic companies that will drive the new economy, Longworth said. Meanwhile, the region’s two more important sectors, heavy industry and intensive agriculture, have suffered under the new economic model.
But there’s good news for the Mid-West as well, Longworth said. The region is home to the best collection of educational and research institutions in the country. It is home to developed infrastructure, schools, hospitals and plentiful fresh water.
Regional identity and cooperation are needed if the Mid-West is going to confront its economic challenges, Longworth said.
“We ought to be planning together, working together,” he said.
Partnerships and shared vision such as those demonstrated by the European Union and even the American Southeast could help Mid-Western cities position themselves to compete globally. Mid-Western leaders should be reaching across state lines rather than competing with each other and operating in isolation.
That’s why, in 2007, two young, Mid-Western women founded Glue. The Great Lakes Urban Exchange was begun by Detroit-native Sarah Szurpicki and Pittsburgh-native Abby Wilson to: