For obvious reasons I was very interested in a recent Brookings Institution report on the economic future of the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and home sweet home Ohio, and as a bonus I learned two great new phrases: The North Coast and Mega-Region. Finally someone has found a couple phrases that capture the importance of our region — we’re not just big, we’re “Mega” — in a way that has a cool jet-setty sort of ring to it “I’m going to fly up to the North Coast for the weekend.” Maybe at last we can retire the “Rust Belt” label. The report goes so far as to show how our region “dominated the agricultural and industrial eras” and although it has struggled with entrepreneurism it is poised to lead the knowledge economy.
The Good News
The region is an economic engine, accounting for 32% of the nation’s GDP.
The region is significant for its R&D and corporate presence with 300 Fortune 500 headquarters — which is more than any other region in the country.
The region is one of a half-dozen Mega-Regions emerging throughout the country as networked metros.
The region leads the nation in global exports, accounting for 30% of US merchandise exports. (Ohio is ranked 7th in the nation for exports)
The region is recognized as a world center for new technologies, generating 32% of all patents.
The region accounts for 29% of R&D spending done nationwide.
The region is home to the largest concentration of universities in the WORLD.
The region produces a huge amount of talent accounting for nearly 40% of all undergraduate and graduate degrees conferred each year.
The region excels in advanced manufacturing components, including electronics, robotics, nanotechnology and materials.
The Less Good News
The region is losing population in the infamous “brain drain.”
The workforce is less educated (more high school degrees, less college degrees)
The region remains reliant on manufacturing.
Productivity in the region is up, but employment is down.
Unemployment is high and many need new job skills.
Entrepreneural rank is low.
The region lacks access to capital for new investment.
The region suffers from high “legacy of place” costs, aging infrastructure, older housing stock, comparatively higher taxes.
So What’s the Conclusion
The Brookings report is peppered with a series of inventive “common marketplace” compacts and agreements for the Great Lakes. The aim is to set higher education goals in science, technology and math [good for Kent!] and to build portable course credit, credentialing and pension systems across all the states. It also urges big new dollars for basic and applied research and development [good for Kent!], a Great Lakes energy independence compact focused on clean energy sources.
Concurrently, there would be a Great Lakes venture fund to tap some portion of state and private pension funds and university endowments [good for Kent!] to grow new companies, along with guarantees of some tuition aid for all college students [good for Kent!]. A regionwide low-cost, portable health insurance plan is proposed, financed by employers and workers, as well as a “fix it first” strategy for roads and introduction of high-speed rail. And finally, the report calls for a “North Coast” focus on access to clean waters and natural vistas focused through national multibillion-dollar investment in Great Lakes environmental restoration.
Clearly, we’re on the brink of some major changes in our region and at the risk of sounding terribly self serving, it seems to me that Kent is poised to be a significant beneficiary if we get organized and go after the new dollars at full speed.
Hang on, here we go!