Older industrial cities are promising regions for strategic investment and critical centers for promoting inclusive economic growth.
“(Older cities) anchor regions of the country that have not fully participated in the latest waves of economic growth,” says a report by the Brookings Institution called Renewing America’s Economic Promise Through Older Industrial Cities. “Yet they remain significant centers of population and commerce. In the face of relentless economic and demographic change, older industrial cities possess considerable innovation, talent, and built environment assets that can spur adaptation, growth, and broader opportunity.”
Will Flint stand among them?
Brookings studied 70 older industrial cities, like Detroit and Flint, to identify, analyze and categorize the “good” and “bad” of communities that collectively account for one-eighth of the U.S. population and economy. Right now, the study puts Flint in the “vulnerable” category, along with several other older cities with historically strong manufacturing cores that have struggled to grow jobs in new sectors and boost employment and income.
Alan Berube, deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, says the study provides a blueprint to help these older cities find new ways to drive strategic investment and inclusive economic growth. He will present the findings on the research called “The Power of Older Industrial Cities” at “The ASPIRE To Transform: The Power of Older Industrial Cities Symposium,” Wednesday, December 5 from 11:30 to 2:00 p.m. at Flint’s Northbank Center.
The event will offer the Flint community a chance to advance conversations about inclusionary development, which is essential to the city’s economic growth as well as the well-being of the nation. To register for this event, click here.
Among the hardest hit are cities with a concentrated population of minorities, says Berube.
The study points out the most dramatic issue in those cities is the stark variation in inclusion outcomes by race and place, including wide racial gaps in income and employment, and higher levels of concentrated poverty and economic segregation. That is causing a growing economic divide between the technology hubs in coastal cities in the U.S. and cities in the Midwest, such as Flint. That divide poses serious economic, social, and political consequences for the nation, the study says.
That can, and must, change. The bottom line is, older cities can become the backbone of inclusive economic growth, and Flint can be among them.
The study lays out several ways older industrial cities can leverage their advantages, address their disadvantages and create an upward economic trajectory. Here are just a few:
- Support small business growth
- Create robust research collaboration with local universities
- Reimagine and restore historic buildings for new, innovative uses
- Develop centers of recreation and sustainability
- Create vibrant arts communities
- Encourage continuous learning at all ages
- Attract immigrants
- Develop a regional commitment and strategy to sustain job creation, job preparation, and job access efforts and ensure they reinforce one another
- Develop programs that help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds develop the skills they need to contribute meaningfully to their cities’ successes
Flint has already taken many of these actions, but it must make certain the positive outcomes are shared broadly across income and racial groups as well as communities. That is essential with the increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the US.
According to the study, people of color represent more than 40 percent of the residents in older industrial cities. It also says “over the next few decades, immigration and aging will continue to transform America into a much more multi-racial, multi-ethnic society.”
Becoming a successful city with strong economic development and maintaining that status will mean embracing, not just diversity, but also inclusion and creating programs that move everyone forward, together.
A 2007 Brookings report, “Restoring Prosperity,” concluded with this observation. “After decades of deterioration and decline, current economic and demographic forces are providing fresh opportunities for older industrial cities to capitalize on their assets and restore the prosperity that has for too long eluded so many of their neighborhoods and families.”
These words remain true in 2018, but today they are so much more urgent. For many cities there will not be a second chance.
We believe Flint has the knowledge, commitment, innovation and talent to be at the forefront of creating the critical inclusive environment needed for economic growth and a return to the ideals to which we all aspire. We hope you will attend “The ASPIRE To Transform: The Power of Older Industrial Cities Symposium” to make your voice heard.
The symposium is sponsored by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and its coordinating partner, University of Michigan-Flint’s EDA University Center for Community and Economic Development. To register, click here.
Editor’s Note: The ASPIRE To Transform: The Power of Older Industrial Cities Symposium will take place on December 5, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the University of Michigan-Flint’s Northbank Center Ballroom located at 432 N. Saginaw Street.
Lead photo: File photo l TheHUB Flint