By now we’re accustomed to the ongoing litany of reasons the Midwest is doomed to perpetual decline: people move to better jobs and more comfortable weather; the region is still a union bastion; the most innovative thinkers prefer the kind of folks they find on the coasts.
Joel Kotkin, an urban development scholar who edits the interesting New Geography website, argues in a recent post that the Midwest may be about as faded as it will get, and indeed might have begun a long-term turnaround.
Kotkin notes unemployment is lower in the Midwest than regions that once boasted some of the hottest economies. Housing is still cheap. Native sons and daughters are returning—not to Detroit, maybe, but to plenty of other livable cities. (Indianapolis comes in for a mention as attracting people from elsewhere in the nation.)
He goes on to point out personal income growth in some cities is outpacing the U.S., and that farm and energy products are on the rise. Even manufacturing might be verging on a recovery.
Moreover, at least in the short term, many of the people who took over leadership of Congress following the November elections hail from the Midwest, not the coasts. So coal and roads and bridges might get more attention than renewable energy and mass transit. (Keep in mind Kotkin has been known to praise suburbs—not a particularly endearing position among his peers.)
If Kotkin is right, this is good news for small companies, which tend to sell closer to home than their larger counterparts and have a more difficult time recruiting from afar.