Rust Belt in the Red

Here's the breakdown on the deteriorating government budgets across the region, as compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

I predict more cuts. Lots of them.

Projected gaps for FY2010:

Michigan $1.6 Billion
Minnesota $2.5 Billion
New York $13.7 Billion
Ohio $2 Billion
Wisconsin $2.9 Billion

Bailouts, or birthing the next big thing

John Torinus' recent column in the Milwaukee Journal reminds me....still need to read Caught in the Middle by Chicago journalist Richard Longworth.

In fact, the book is sitting in the exact same spot it was when I last blogged about it in April '08.

Friend and fellow blogger Professor Noah Hall gives it a strong review

Torinus, chairman of Serigraph, Inc, a plastics decorating firm based in West Bend, WI, seems to like it too. He says the book is light on solutions.

But he recycles several passages in his December 27, 2008 column arguing that government bailouts should strive to incentivize innovative business activity, not just recklessly throw money at problems with little forward-looking strategy or focus.

Quoting Longworth...

"Midwestern might was based, as we know, on easy access to iron and coal, on money, on new methods of mass production.

"But mostly it rested on ideas, on the minds and imaginations of a generation of entrepreneurs, dreamers, and doers, unafraid to risk all on a roll of the industrial dice.

"As in Silicon Valley now, Midwestern innovation created a new world."

Indeed, in the 20th century the Midwest pioneered premier centers of higher learning, innovative new industries, creative social programs and modern cities that set the course for America. The time is ripe, it seems, to do it all again.

Who's really Ready-To-Go?

We know the list is incomplete, as it fails to include proposed streetcar systems in Cincinnati, OH and Grand Rapids, MI.

But several Rust Belt cities intend to invest more deeply in real modern public transit in an effort to generate jobs and grow the economy, based on the U.S. Mayor's recently released Main Street Economic Recovery initiative.

Among the more exciting and ambitious projects...passenger rail in Dearborn, MI...streetcar in downtown Duluth, MN...fixed route transit in Kokomo, IN...a central hub for 8 different transportation modes in Normal, sharing in Orland Park, IL...and light rail in St. Paul, MN.

Other cities in the region looking to bolster their transit programs with increased federal funding include:

Akron, OH
Battle Creek, MI
Beloit, WI
Chanhassen, MN
Dearborn, MI
Detroit, MI
Duluth, MI
Glenview, IL
Green Bay, WI
Harrisburg, PA
Jackson, MI
Kokomo, IN
Lima, OH
Moline, IL
Normal, IL
Orland Park, IL
Racine, WI
Riverdale, IL
Romeoville, IL
St. Paul, MN
Sheboygan, WI
St. Louis Park, MN
Tinley Park, IL
Toledo, OH
University Heights, OH

$13 billion MIGHT be a good start

With the stars seemingly aligned for a major nation-building project in America, more than 125 Rust Belt cities have published individual lists of projects to improve schools, roads, water systems, public transit and other local priorities.

Taken together, the lists - part of the Mainstreet Economic Recovery initiative led by the U.S. Conference of Mayors - call for approximately $13 billion in public works spending to rebuild cities and generate more than 143,300 job opportunities throughout the Midwest.

Some cities clearly provided more complete plans of action than others.

Akron, OH, for example - population approximately 208,000 - prepared a $925 million future-oriented spending plan to buy busses, install solar energy systems, restore neighborhood waterways and modernize schools.

Minneapolis, on the other hand - population approximately 373,00 - outlined just one priority: a $1.3 million rehab of a tunnel on 10th Avenue.

Cleveland, OH has yet to file its wish list.

My hometown Grand Rapids, MI outlined a $163 million agenda to, among other things, expand one public park, develop a couple wind and solar projects, and upgrade the sewer system.

All good and proper work that no doubt would continue GR's impressive renaissance. But it's a drop of water in Lake Michigan compared to the level of investment Michigan's second largest city truly needs to grow and sustain its health and wealth in the 21st century.

I suspect the same is true of the other 125-plus cities.

In Detroit, $832 million installs a few downtown crosswalks, replaces some bridges and removes 40,000 dead trees. What about replanting?

Which makes you wonder...what's the true cost of Rust Belt recovery and revitalization?

Getting to the heart of the matter

Michigan, it turns out, was not in a one-state recession the past couple years, as many economists and politicians believed.The state's job cuts, factory closings and bankruptcies were just early warning symptoms of failing national - and global - economic health. In other words, there's a convincing case to be made that America's recovery begins by curing what ails Michigan.

"The heartbeat of [the U.S.] economy is in Michigan," Jerome Wingo, president of the Apollo Alliance, a national coalition of economic, environmental and community leaders working to promote energy innovation, told the crowd gathered at Michigan's recent Sustainable Business Forum conference.

Will Buffalo lure more than Bass?

Uh oh. The $315 million redevelopment plan for Buffalo's inner harbor is receiving mixed reviews.

Certainly troubling is the idea of allowing the elevated highway to stand over the proposed 20-acre entertainment/residential/commercial district.

It seems odd to lead such an important urban revitalization effort with something as un-metropolitan as a Bass Pro.

And the message is off: The project is not a "lifestyle center," according to Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp Vice Chair Lawrence Quinn (as reported at Buffalo Rising.)

A revitalized waterfront is key to the health and wealth of Buffalo and the Great Lakes. But highways and suburban style shopping malls are not leading indicators of prosperity in this new era. The winning strategy invests in mass transit, local business and inviting public places.

You can do it Buffalo! If you build it they will come.

Detroit's other transportation story

Will the 24th attempt to install modern mass transit in Detroit succeed?

Conditions seem favorable.

And momentum is growing.

But Detroit has been here before....23 times!

Maybe General Motors - and their army of laid off workers - lays the track and manufactures the rail cars?