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5 Signs America’s Rust Belt Is Making a Comeback

Industry in the northeastern United States is poised for a comeback.

by Matthew Dolan, Detroit Free Press / June 13, 2016
Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry" mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. flickr/ashleystreet


1. Fewer people fleeing as some see cities as destinations

A number of Rust Belt cities saw a dramatic drop in population between 2000 and 2010; Detroit was the most stark, plummeting 25%. But since 2010, the exodus seems to have slowed, or even reversed in some instances, according to Census estimates from 2010 and 2015: Indianapolis (+3.8%);Columbus (+7.5%); Detroit (-4.8%); Baltimore (-0.1); Milwaukee (0.8%); Cleveland (-2%); St. Louis (-1.1%); and Pittsburgh (-0.4%).

2. Rust Belt poster child shows signs of rebirth.

Detroit for decades symbolized the fall of an American industrial titan. But there are glimmers of renewal that could take hold. More than a year out of bankruptcy court, the city's finances are stable, with a balanced budget relieved of $7 billion in long-term debt. The violent crime rate including homicides fell last year compared to 2014. Unemployment dropped by nearly half, to around 10%. Detroit's long exodus of population has slowed to its lowest pace in decades. Some predict next year will show the city's first population growth since the 1950s.

3. Rust Belt could soon rely on mind over might.

Urban planners and enthusiasts envision former industrial powerhouses becoming "brainbelts." Braced by world-class universities, they would confront and solve complex expensive challenges that require multidisciplinary approaches in a collaborative environment. They have often already infrastructure that attracts and retains talent. They now brashly promote affordable housing that has caused some to shy away from Silicon Valley.

4. Universities high on Rust Belt investment

Take Detroit. A new report this month found the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University (the only one based in Detroit) contributed $958 million in economic activity to the city last year, equivalent to $1,400 for each resident. Some 11,600 jobs in the city are connected to their work.

5. Manufacturing isn't dead, but it's different.

It's now driven by new technology, rising wages in competitor countries and the local development of low-cost, abundant domestic energy, economists say. Sales for automakers, for example, topped a 15-year-old peak last year as cheap gas and a stronger economy lifted demand and boosted company profits.

©2016 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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