A new study on Midwest employment trends puts some serious cracks in “flyover country” rhetoric.
Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and the Walton Family Foundation have released their State of the Heartland: Factbook 2018 exploring economic trends within a 19-state region stretching from Minnesota to Louisiana, and from the Dakotas to Tennessee.
The study finds that in large part due to a robust advanced manufacturing sector, this region “would, if it were an independent nation, be the world’s fourth largest economy,” Curbed.com reports in an October 18 article titled “The unheralded success of flyover states.”
Despite a reputation for what Curbed calls “shuttered mills” and “a changing economic landscape,” the Heartland is home to a cross-section of industries that remain globally competitive and pay well compared to jobs across the country.
Further findings of the study include:
- All 19 states have added jobs since 2010 and increased their economic output.
- Standards of living have increased in all 19 states since 2010.
- There are signs of continued economic growth, including in tech: “numerous local, and even grassroots, programs have expanded the tech industry infrastructure in the heartland,” Curbed reports.
It’s not all rosy. The study identifies obstacles to investment and funding as roadblocks to continued growth, along with problems ranging from social equity and inclusion, to opioid and obesity epidemics.
The study also emphasizes the workforce shortage affecting northeastern Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin, noting “the Western labor markets are some of the tightest in the nation.” This part of the country, the report suggests, is “struggling to amass the human and technology capacity needed to support broad-based prosperity in the future.”
This problem is exacerbated by “a near-complete dearth” of venture capital investment outside of Chicago. As the Chicago Tribune reported in their article on the study, the Heartland receives only 5.2% of total venture capital spending in the nation. That figure includes funding received by Chicago, so the figure split by the rest of the region is even lower.
“We had to look at those numbers twice,” said Robert Maxim, senior research analyst at Brookings. “We didn’t believe it.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Heartland has a population of nearly 99 million people, compared to 227 million in the rest of the country, and has an economy slightly bigger than Germany’s.
Overall, the Heartland economy “has been steady, if not stellar” in recent years, according to the study.
“The states and regions that build human capacity and invest in and nurture innovation will establish ecosystems that create high-quality, broadly-shared growth for their citizens while attracting migrants from elsewhere, boosting growth further,” the report concludes, adding: “The good news is that even in its most challenging areas for improvement, the Heartland boasts some of the most impressive and impactful collaborations anywhere of business, civic, and government innovators working together to solve problems.”