Will the Midwest Survive Globalization? That question is the subject of a new book by Richard Longworth, “Caught in the Middle – America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalization.” I got to know Dick Longworth last summer when he invited me to Chicago to speak with reporters about the Great Lakes and globalization for a Chicago Council on Global Affairs program. I was excited to read his book, and it did not disappoint.
Longworth uses objective data and expert interviews combined with anecdotal stories gathered from road-tripping the Midwest to make a compelling case that the Midwest is getting its collective butt kicked by globalization. Longworth recognizes that there are isolated success stories, primarily the “global city” of Chicago and university towns such as Ann Arbor, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin that have found their intellectual niche in the new global economy. But the most of the Midwest is failing, and failing to recognize the reasons for its failure.
Many of Longworth’s solutions build on two themes. First, we need vibrant and diverse cities to be the centers of a revitalized Midwest. “Sprawling suburbs can hold a lot of routine commerce, but when this global conversation [that drives the global economy] takes place, they’re out of earshot.” Second, education is critical for the region to keep pace, let alone reclaim the innovative thinking that led to its boom a century ago. Longworth sees increased support for, and cooperation within, higher education as key to the region’s future. The Midwest has a tremendous concentration of top universities that can drive new innovation while helping the region overcome its nostalgia for the days when a high-school diploma was all a guy needed to live the good life.
Longworth notes the importance of water, and specifically the Great Lakes – “the region’s premier economic and ecological resource.” He also sees the need for regional cooperation beyond state lines. These two issues come together in the proposed Great Lakes compact. Longworth sees the success or failure of the states to collectively pass the compact as a test for the region’s ability to come together on many other policy and economic issues. I couldn’t agree more. If there’s one thing that brings everyone in this region together, it’s their love of the Great Lakes. Let’s build on that unifying concern to move the region forward toward a future of vibrant global cities populated with educated and engaged citizens centered around a world class water resource.