Missing from 2020: A real Midwest jobs strategy

Missing from 2020: A real Midwest jobs strategy

In 2016 President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump administration eyes proposal to block jet engine sales to China: report Trump takes track to open Daytona 500 Brazile 'extremely dismayed' by Bloomberg record MORE’s nostalgic pitch to bring back coal and steel and rebuild manufacturing was a message many Midwest swing state voters were eager to hear. With runaway artificial intelligence and continuing dislocations in traditional industries, anxiety among workers in the Midwest remains high. Midwestern voters are hearing a lot from 2020 aspirants who play to these anxieties — promising to soothe the symptoms but not necessarily fix the industrial disease behind their unease.

What has been lacking from candidates are plans for how to create good well-paying jobs in emerging sectors to replace inevitably diminished opportunities in traditional industries. While Trump keeps claiming a jobs victory (despite evidence that Midwestern communities are worse off), Democratic candidates have only occasionally hit “good-job-growing” notes.

Midwestern jobs were more front and center in the recent Democratic presidential debate in Ohio. Solutions still tended to veer towards we can “solve all problems” through a massive public infrastructure rebuild or with the magic bullet of the “Green New Deal.”


No one is offering a vision of how to accelerate good job creation in a host of emerging sectors in which (ironically and little known or noticed) the Midwest swing states can show the way.

New analysis from our upcoming Chicago Council on Global Affairs Vital Midwest report details how the Midwest can build on an impressive innovation infrastructure in the form of top universities, companies, new technology and talent generation to create good-paying jobs and businesses in emerging sectors, including water, IT and Data/Analytics, Clean Energy, New Food Systems, Transportation and New Mobility, Health and Bioscience. In each of these sectors there are global markets for new products and services ranging from $1 trillion (water) to $7.5 trillion (transportation/new mobility).

Perhaps the most potent of the Midwest’s economic assets to drive new business and job creation is its network of top colleges and universities. The Midwest boasts 22 of the world’s top 200 research universities — more than any other region on earth.

Today's top learning and research institutions are the fulcrum for tech-driven growth in the country’s economic hothouses, like Silicon Valley (Stanford/UC-Berkeley), Boston (MIT/Harvard) or emerging tech centers Boulder, Colo. (University of Colorado) and Austin, Texas (University of Texas).

In the Midwest, it’s not just college football that’s big. Our universities are the biggest. The anchor is the B1G 10 Academic Alliance: Its 14 schools enroll 600,000 students, host 50,000 faculty members and conduct $10 billion in funded research, more than the Ivy League and the University of California system combined. The Midwest is also home to more than one-third (21) of the 60 schools in the Association of American Universities, representing nearly half of all U.S. doctorate degrees and 55 percent of all science and engineering doctorate degrees awarded.


These universities, joined by 200 of the country’s Fortune 500 companies founded in the region, are responsible for 27 percent of the country’s corporate and university patents, 25 percent of all R&D (including 33 percent of educational R&D) and more than 33 percent of the nation’s highly competitive National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding grants.

The power of these assets to drive local technology-based economic development and a modern, post-Rust Belt reality is already visible. Three of the top eight fastest growing tech talent markets in North America are Madison (#3), Pittsburgh (#5) and Cleveland (#8).

Moreover, innovation guru Ian Hathaway’s recent report on the expansion of start up communities notes how Pittsburgh, Madison and Ann Arbor are among those communities rising faster than national peers.

Given these assets, the Midwest has the research, production and innovation base to become a larger player in other emerging sectors central to the economy of tomorrow.

It’s happening around the Great Lakes with water. In Milwaukee leaders have “rebranded” their community from brats, beer and motorcycles — to water technology. Milwaukee’s Water Council has created a global research and technology hub, home to more than 238 water technology businesses with annual revenues exceeding $10 billion.

Information technology (IT) and data analytics solutions are found from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, fueled by the Midwest’s leading computer science and engineering programs (6 of the top 25 U.S schools).

In Michigan, DuoSecurity, a cybersecurity startup that spilled out of the University of Michigan, employs nearly a 1,000 Michiganders — and just realized a $1 billion-plus IPO; then a $2.3 billion buyout from Cisco — minting dozens of new millionaires who will now finance new tech startups.

In clean energy, the Midwest’s research universities are developing next generation technologies in energy storage, photovoltaics and other “off-the-grid” solutions as part the nation’s energy innovation hub network. States like Iowa are creating jobs (and resurrecting dying communities) by reaching its goal of 40 percent clean energy from wind, now ranking 2nd in the nation in terms of wind capacity.

The Midwest is also out front in developing new food systems to feed a hungry world more sustainably. The country’s breadbasket, hosting five of the top ten states in agricultural output, Midwest producers are into new specialty foods, local, organic and niche market products, such as craft-brewing. As the global marketplace for food solutions (estimated at $5 trillion) grows, the region’s world-leading agricultural applied research, and dissemination institutions (7 of top 25) extend agricultural innovations, like urban food systems and sustainable practices, across the globe.

Born and centered in the Midwest, the transportation business of today is a growing “New Mobility” industry, exploding past personal cars, to IT-linked multi-modal transportation options, and a dizzying variety of products and service innovations, such as shared services, self-driving vehicles, scooters, bikes and public transit.

IT and engineering expertise at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan help make Detroit and Pittsburgh leaders. And the region’s carmakers are today more nimble and risk-taking, engaged in a range of new mobility startups where they can combine software solutions with their expertise in hardware design, prototyping, manufacturing and deployment.

Today’s Healthcare and Life/Biosciences industry grows in and around the complexes of health care centers, teaching hospitals, medical research complexes, and universities, which the Midwest has in abundance — seven of the top 25. Driving local economic development in thriving Rochester, Minnesota (Mayo Clinic), Grand Rapids, Michigan, and its “Medical Mile” and Cleveland’s Eastside home to the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western University.

There are very tangible things that the next president can do to fuel growth in the Midwest — from increasing Federal R&D in health, energy, water and mobility solutions to focusing that effort through research-university-hubbed Innovation Institutes.

With this kind of help, the Midwest can be the region that discovers and pioneers needed solutions in emerging fields, puts them to work in its own communities and around the world, and in so doing reaps the reward of new jobs. Good-paying jobs are the single best cure for Midwest workers’ economic anxieties.

John Austin directs the Michigan Economic Center and is a nonresident senior fellow with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Brookings Institutions. Follow him on Twitter at @John_C_Austin.