Once upon a time, you could group the midwest economy into three categories: Factories, Farms, and Other. Growing up in Richmond, Indiana, my family was in the “other” quadrant: tree farms and landscaping. Things were alright and we made enough to get by. Until one day, one of the three categories collapsed and then the rest bottomed out. I remember being young, hearing the Heinz and Belden factories weren’t doing so well. To this day I am not sure if they were driven out of town by strikes, or drawn out of town for cheaper labor. Either way, the factories near Richmond got out of there.
Folks talked pretty calmly about it at the time, but to be honest, things got real bad, real quick. At age nine I learned an economic principle. When jobs get up out of your town, the people get up out of your town too. What was once rows of middle class homes became rows of abandoned buildings. And when people aren’t living in buildings, they don’t buy your trees or get their landscaping done. No fun.
All these abandoned homes opened up a new opportunity in our area though. At the time, making meth was a novel thing, and our proximity to interstate 40 and interstate 70 made it really easy to ship supply. So, seemingly overnight, Richmond, once known as the “Rose city,” replaced flower exports with drug exports. Abandoned buildings became burnt down buildings, the amount of teeth per capita plummeted, and the “wanted” section of the newspaper expanded to the entire page.
This story is a microcosm from the perspective of a nine year old. What I didn’t realize is that this same story was repeated all over the midwest in any town or city reliant on factory jobs — which is all of them.
Barriers to Rebuilding The Midwest
Splitting my time between Detroit and Cincinnati has given me an interesting perspective. Driving up 75 I pass through Dayton and Toledo and see the abandoned buildings along the way. Most of our investors are from Chicago, and I am involved as a mentor for the Columbus smart city accelerator. Although I see abandoned buildings and poverty in every one of these towns, one thing I know to be true: each one of these places has a flame, and with intelligent cultivation, is ready to thrive.
But here is the thing. There is no silver bullet. In the past we could throw up factories, pay reasonable wages and create a thriving city. Not so today, this is only going to happen piece by piece. We can’t rely on government funding either — that stuff runs out and isn’t particularly efficient. Rebuilding the midwest can only be accomplished by a collective group of intelligent decisions.
But there two barriers in our way: information and courage.
Read the full article originally posted here.