Whether booming or busting, no two cities are alike. But each has something to learn from others, especially in the brutal post-industrial competition ushered in by the age of globalization.
Nobody is doing a better job of comparing cities in the Midwest than the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. We’ve written earlier about the Industrial Cities Initiative, a comparison of the differing destinies of ten mid-size industrial cities across the Fed’s five-state area. Now Rick Mattoon, the first-rate senior economist and economic advisor in the Chicago Fed’s Economic Research Department, has compared aspects of the largest cities in each of the five states.
The first installment, focused on Des Moines, appears in the blog hosted by Bill Testa, the Chicago Fed’s vice president for regional programs and itself an invaluable source of information on the Midwestern economy. The five-city report, co-authored by Mattoon and Norman Wang, a former associate economist at the Fed, can be accessed here.
The big five cities are Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Des Moines. These are five very different cities, both past and present. Mattoon doesn’t aim to give a complete picture of any of them. Instead he zeroes in on their “clusters” – the degree to which they are dominated by a few industries (such as autos in Detroit) or have a broad range of major industries, as do Chicago and Indianapolis. In the process, he tests the argument by Michael Porter, the Harvard economic theorist, that clusters are the key to urban economic growth.
Armed with this information, Mattoon looks at each city’s economic development plan and finds that they mostly are focused on clusters – although not necessarily the clusters that sustained them in the past.
This sort of comparative work is so valuable that I wish the Fed – not just the Chicago Fed but the nation’s 11 other Federal Reserve Banks – would collaborate to do more of it. It would be interesting to see Mattoon’s assessment of the five cities in the Chicago’s Fed’s region compared with, say, Minneapolis or Omaha or Columbus or Kansas City. All are Midwestern cities that share a history and economy with the cities in Mattoon’s report. But they are parceled out among other Fed districts that cooperate too seldom in analyzing problems that afflict them all.