Category Archives: Regional growth and development

Manufacturing exports continue to excel

Even as much of the Midwest’s automotive industry remains troubled, the region’s overall manufacturing exports continue to impress. In the Seventh District, manufactured exports make up around 7% of gross state product; this is on par with the nation’s economy (also discussed in a previous blog). While this share is not huge, the manufacturing sector’s rapid growth of exports in recent years translates into an outsized contribution to the region’s growth. Export growth of manufactured products will exceed 11% in 2006, which marks the third consecutive year of similar growth. By our reckoning, strong export growth from manufacturing made up roughly one-sixth of the Seventh District’s overall output growth in 2006.

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What’s propelling these exports? For the most part, it’s been due to continued strong global economic recovery and expansion. Following two years of weak growth in 2001 and 2002, the global economy began to recover. According to estimates gathered and reported by the IMF, the global economy grew by 5.1% in 2006. This followed three years of similarly strong expansion. As of early 2007, forecasts and expectations for this year are equally robust.

Among our major trading partners, Mainland China has exhibited the strongest growth; it has been reporting growth rates of 8% to10% over the past seven years. Accordingly, Seventh District manufacturing exports to China have been growing rapidly at an average annual pace of 9.3% per year since 1997.

The chart below illustrates that Midwestern exports to China have come to represent an increasing share of the region’s overall exports to Asia. In 1997, overall goods exports to China, including agriculuture, mining, and manufacturing, accounted for only 13.7% of the Seventh District’s exports to Asia. By last year, however, China’s share almost reached 20 percent. (See black line).

Manufactured goods exports accounted for most of this expansion. Moreover, expanding manufactured exports were widespread across broad industry sectors including transportation equipment, machinery and metals.

The second chart below ranks manufactured exports to destination nations in 1997 and 2006. While Canada remains far and away the region’s predominant export destination, China now ranks fifth, behind Canada, Mexico, the U.K., and Japan. The Seventh District states exported $4.9 billion of manufactured goods to China-Hong Kong last year.

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The Seventh District’s manufacturing sector continues to be large and export oriented. This means that global economic growth will continue to figure prominently in the region’s growth. However, this assumes that U.S. policies of open world trade and investment will continue to be expanded. Agreements to open our trade across the globe help develop and stimulate the economies of our trading partners. In response, our trading partners turn to the industrial Midwest for many of their purchases.

Sports Franchises and Urban Development

Are there worthwhile benefits to large urban economies from professional sports franchises and events? Critics are especially hostile to the idea of tax breaks, incentives and other public subsidies to sport franchises and events. At best, they claim that local spending on sports events displaces local spending on other activities, with no net impact on expenditure or income. Worse, they claim that public monies spent or foregone to subsidize sports franchises or events could have otherwise been more productively spent on enhanced public education or the like.

In rebuttal, there is another school of thought that posits that the changing nature of urban economies has heightened the value of recreational amenities as a draw for coveted workers. As the productive basis of city economies has shifted away from the manufacturing and distribution of goods, and towards a greater focus on information exchange by skilled and educated workers, some policy analysts argue that the successful workplace location is now driven by where people want to live rather than by its strategic location for moving materials.

In some instances, major league sports teams and professional sports events, such as the Super Bowl, can be counted highly among cities’ “public goods” amenities that attract and retain productive workers. In this, sporting events may be among several amenities whose sum total is more than the some of the parts because a large city’s varied restaurants, museums, cultural diversity, arts, and sports all go into making it “an interesting and exciting place to live.”

The measurable evidence on this effect is sparse, but several statistical studies have found favorable impacts. A thorough and balanced review of studies has been conducted by Mark Rosentraub. No doubt that many subsidies are ill-conceived. But Rosentraub concludes that the net value of a sports investment by the public sector rests on its context and the particular outcomes for the city and county making the investment. For example, the placement of publicly-subsidized stadiums in downtown areas have been found to help enliven and revive struggling downtowns. Another study found that Indiana residents valued the intangible benefits of having the Indianapolis Colts sufficiently to justify public subsidies. And in a statistical study across metropolitan areas, Jerry Carlino and Ed Coulson found that households tend to pay higher housing rents in metropolitan areas that choose to host sports franchises. Apparently, the value of nearby sports activity affects land and housing congestion that arises as greater population is attracted to such sports-minded places.

Among the most intangible, most difficult-to-measure benefits attendant to sporting events are the advertising or marketing values associated with the opportunity to re-cast a city’s image to a national or international audience. Places whose images become distorted or unfairly known due to their past travails may especially view large sporting events as valuable in setting the record straight.

In particular, an enhanced image may be helpful as businesses consider investment decisions and as workers consider various recruitment offers. The City of Detroit, for example, went to great pains and took great pride in successfully hosting the Superbowl XL in their new stadium situated amidst extensive downtown renewal.

This year’s two Super Bowl contestants, Chicago and Indianapolis, likely welcomed the media coverage of their cities deriving from both the Miami telecast and from national pre-game media hype. Chicago has been working to boost its image as a national and global city having superior amenities and functionality. In fact, it is one of two U.S. cities still vying to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis has been pursuing sports-minded economic development for quite some time. During the 1970s, the city began to boost its support for amateur sports facilities and events, meeting some success in hosting the Pan American Games in 1987 and, among other things, it is now the headquarters locale of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. During times when high-profile events are not taking place in Indianapolis, its sports facilities are often in use by young athletes who come to town (often with their families), patronizing the city’s hotels and restaurants.

Despite scoldings by the majority of public policy analysts, many of which are well-founded, some cities still see gold in them thar’ games!

Chicago’s Pursuit of the Global Prize

Policy and business leaders in Chicago continue to advance the metropolitan area’s prospects as a global hub for professional and financial services. This initiative arises from both necessity and opportunity. Chicago’s traditional markets, principally in the surrounding Midwest, are not growing rapidly. At the same time, however, the Chicago economy specializes in advanced producer service sectors that are increasingly traded more broadly and, in many cases, internationally.

As the business service center of the Midwest, serving regional markets and industries, Chicago companies’ prospects for growth are somewhat limited. That is so largely for two reasons. First, the Midwest economic base centers on agriculture and manufacturing. Since productivity growth is so very high in these industries, and competition keeps commodity prices low, income and revenue (and attendant jobs) grow slowly. The second reason is climate. As the U.S. economy restructures toward information industries and knowledge workers, service production is being pulled toward locations where workers prefer to live, often milder climes.

However, globalization of the economy has also brought new opportunities to populous information-based cities like Chicago. Large cities often have wonderful amenities that are not dependent on climate, such as sports, restaurants, museums, and cultural diversity. But more fundamentally, it is because expanding global trade in goods, services, and capital requires the complex and specialized functions and industry sectors that are concentrated in large cities, including legal services, logistics, distribution, finance, insurance, business meetings, R&D, and professional business services.

Chicago has been developing such sectors almost since its inception. Today, Chicago features world-leading risk exchanges, universities, business meeting and personal air travel firms, legal services, headquarters facilities, and management consultancies.

During the 1990s, the growth of Chicago’s professional services was robust. According to the data reported on payroll employment, the Chicago metropolitan area added a net 80,000 jobs in the sector from 1990 to 1999, more than the Los Angeles metropolitan area and more than New York City.

However, since then, job performance in Chicago has often been much weaker, raising doubts about whether the city’s economic structure has divorced itself from the surrounding region as much as previously believed. The chart below displays year-over-year growth in the professional, technical, and R&D sectors. Employment growth experienced year-over-year declines for most of the 2002-2004 period, before reviving in 2005.

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How much of Chicago’s business service economy has expanded to global markets or even to other large U.S. cities in the global network?

We know very little about the geography and changing geography of these hallmark industry sectors. However, one informative study by Peter J. Taylor and Robert E. Lang of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution measures the prominence of major global service companies among large cities in the world.

Taylor and Lang examine 100 global companies drawn from the business or producer sectors of accounting, advertising, banking/finance, insurance, law, and management consulting. For each city, the sum presence of their offices (weighted by size and function) determines a score for a city’s commercial presence and ties to the global city service network.

According to the Taylor-Lang study, Chicago scores high in its global connectivity, both relative to other U.S. cities and relative to the world’s major cities. Among U.S. cities, Chicago ranks second only to New York. Among world cities, Chicago ranks seventh, behind London, New York, Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo, and Singapore.

The Taylor-Lang study scores Chicago’s connections with domestic cities such as Atlanta and New York in the same way it scores connections with international cities such as Sydney. This seems correct. International borders can be arbitrary. And to otherwise score border-crossings might bias the results toward cities located on continents where national boundaries are near each other, such as Europe.

The study does provide a separate “hinterland” scale for each city, which tries to measure the degree to which a city’s global connectivity relies on nearby national trading relations. Here, with the exception of New York City, U.S. cities tend to be less international than those on other continents. However, Chicago again scores well. It places third among U.S. cities, behind New York and Miami.

How this relates to Chicago’s recent growth performance and prospects is not clear. The construction of the Taylor-Lang study is creative, clever, and somewhat revealing, but it provides more impressionistic than definitive evidence of global linkages among producer services. Those who would like to draw their own conclusions from the evidence should take a look at the authors’ map of each global city’s linkages, including Chicago. Outside of North America, for example, the map suggests that Chicago’s economy links strongly with Zurich, Switzerland, and Sydney, Australia.

Chicago’s employment in business-professional services is once again growing strongly, at a 3% annual year-over-year pace. If the recent period of weak performance reflects some unusual and fleeting conditions such as a post 9-11 falloff in business travel and related business service activity, then perhaps Chicago’s march to global success will now continue.

Universities and the Great Lakes Economic Revival

Multi-state U.S. regions are defined in a number of ways. One such grouping is the “Great Lakes Region,” comprising all the states that border the Great Lakes. The states that run east to west are New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota (map below). During the nineteenth century, the efficient transportation of materials on the Lakes and connecting canals knitted these state economies together into an agricultural, mining, and manufacturing powerhouse.

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As waterways transportation has given way to overland and air transportation, the region’s economic cohesion and linkages have loosened. However, these states continue to share many common and inter-connected manufacturing industries, especially steel, autos, and nonelectrical machinery such as farm and construction equipment. For this reason, as these traditional manufacturing industries account for fewer jobs and less income, these Great Lakes states seem to share a common economic destiny.

The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program is partnering with many local organizations on a multi-year research and policy initiative to try and boost the economic vitality of the region. During the week of October 23, various Great Lakes cities will host a series of discussions following presentations of a broad “framing paper” called The Vital Center: A Federal-State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region.

This initial Brookings paper points out several avenues for the region to pursue, with “Innovative Infrastructure” being the most prominent. With a 33% share of national population, the region is said to generate 32% of the nation’s patents, perform 29% of its R&D, and graduate 36% of the nation’s scientists and engineers. The report calls on public and private research facilities in the Great Lakes to work together to take advantage of these and other “innovation” opportunities.

Further, perhaps because they are mostly fixed in location, highly prominent in stature, and somewhat amenable to public policy, the region’s universities are receiving a lot of attention as potential engines of regional growth. On the plus side, by one ranking, 19 of the world’s top 100 universities are located in Great Lakes states and Ontario, Canada. On the negative side, graduates of the region’s universities are increasingly gravitating to the East and West coasts and other out-of-region locales.

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Two important public discussions concerning the ability of colleges and universities to affect regional growth and development will take place at Federal Reserve Banks this fall. In addressing the question this coming October 30 in Chicago Rick Mattoon, senior economist, has put together the broader agenda.

As Rick notes in his recent Chicago Fed Letter, the involvement of universities in promoting economic growth and development can take many forms. For one, the spin-off of new local businesses through the transfer of technology from university labs has been an important mechanism for some local economies such as those of Boston, Austin, TX, and Northern California. But in other locales, especially where university research is not prodigious, the primary growth vehicle remains the traditional mission of local schools in producing workers with the skills and talents that match the needs of local industries. And between these two poles, localities vary so widely in their economies and types of universities that a broad spectrum of strategies and roles may be most appropriate in catalyzing regional growth.

At the October 30 event, Richard Lester of MIT will lay out his typology of university–economy relations and their attendant avenues for economic growth. This will be followed by case study discussions from around the Midwest and a panel of university leaders.

On November 16–17, the Cleveland Fed will follow up with a more intensive and focused examination of universities’ roles in innovation. The first day’s agenda addresses how university research leads to economic innovation, and what role geography and proximity play in the productivity of both university research and in local economic growth.

On the second day, the Cleveland conference will present case studies of the university–local economy linkages, “geared toward people in the business community.” Participants will “hear experiences and insights from high-level executives who have faced head-on the challenges and triumphs collaboration can bring.”

As the collaborative Brookings project to stimulate economic activity in the Great Lakes gets underway, these Federal Reserve System discussions should be very helpful in considering how the region’s universities can contribute.

What industries are key to Midwest economic performance?

Urban economist Wilbur Thompson once said, “Tell me your industries, and I’ll tell you your future.” A region’s industries do tell us a lot about its economy. In the Midwest, manufacturing industries often drive fluctuations and trends in the region’s overall economic growth because manufacturing is a much larger part of its economy, on average, than the rest of the nation’s. So, too, manufactured goods are traded far and wide—that is, they are exported and imported across national boundaries as well as across regions that make up the U.S. economy. Accordingly, shifts in demand for manufactured goods can have an outsized impact on states and communities in the Midwest. For example, a national shift in buying behavior toward foreign nameplate autos, or toward smaller and more energy efficient autos, may well impact automotive production, investment, and employment in some parts of the Midwest region.

On a short-term basis, fluctuations in aggregate economic activity, such as recessions, diminish demands for durable goods such as capital equipment, thereby making the Midwest economy more sensitive to national “business cycle” fluctuations.

So, too, many Midwest manufacturing industries are impacted by global competitive shifts. Production operations of some home appliance manufacturers have shifted to Mexico, for instance.

But how can we identify which particular industries to observe and follow in the Seventh District? First, we must ascertain how concentrated is an industry in a local economy as compared with the national economy. Analysts often construct a “location quotient” to do so. In one such application, each industry’s employment share of total employment in the region is compared with its national counterpart. The comparison is constructed as a ratio with the local share on top. For example, if a locality’s labor force had 20 percent of its workers in manufacturing as compared with 10 percent nationally, the index (ratio) takes on a value of 2.0, i.e., 20/10. Parity with the nation would take on a value of 1.0.

While such an index is useful by way of comparison, it says little about the actual size of a particular industry in a state or region. For this reason, the chart below identifies manufacturing industries in the Seventh District states by relative concentration and by employment size. The horizontal scale depicts the concentration, and it is centered at the index value of one, or parity with the nation. The vertical scale is centered at the value of the median-sized manufacturing industry in the District (as measured by payroll employment).

By construction then, we may quickly characterize the most prominent industries in the District as they are located in the upper right hand quadrant of the graph. For the District, it is clear that transportation, food processing, and machinery are the most prominent industries, with transportation (representing automotive) winning hands down. The fabricated metal products sector also looms large; however, these industries represent many diverse intermediate products that are eventually used to produce more final goods such as autos or machinery. Primary metals, principally steel foundries as designated by the industry code 331 on the chart, is the most concentrated industry (as measured by employment) in the District. Yet, its employment is relatively small in comparison.

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Charts for each individual state will soon be available on our Midwest Regional Website. Iowa is reproduced below. As the chart suggests, employment in food processing stands out as the largest and the most concentrated in the state. In large part, this activity represents Iowa’s further processing of corn and soybeans into meals and oils, as well as its meat packing industry, chiefly pork. Iowa’s large and highly concentrated machinery industry reflects its focus on its manufacturing of farm machinery and equipment.

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Analysis of the District’s lesser industries can also be informative. In the overall U.S., the computing and electronic products industries have grown rapidly into a large component of overall U.S. manufacturing. In virtually every Seventh District state, for example, employment in this sector exceeds the median manufacturing sector. But at the same time, the states’ concentration of this sector is universally below the national average. In this instance, the sector’s lower concentration and lesser expansion here have contributed to a slower pace of overall economic growth.

Of course, these glimpses are only a superficial beginning to understanding the structure and behavior the region’s economy. For one, individually identified sectors often have important linkages to others that merit further consideration. Such industries as machinery and autos, for example, purchase great volumes of intermediate materials and parts locally, including those found in rubber and plastics, fabricated metals, and machinery (e.g., tool and die and metal cutting machinery). Also, in varying degrees, sectors may purchase local services as diverse as management consulting and transportation. Specific industry linkages can be found in the input–output tables of the U.S., which are produced by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

However, the U.S. input–output tables may often be misleading for regional analysis. That is because specific inter-sector buying and selling relationships will differ greatly and vary widely from region to region. For one, local firms will purchase intermediate goods and services from many possible places. For the most part, we know little about the varying geography of such relationships. In response, the BEA has adapted and estimated the national relationships for individual regions of the U.S. in its RIMS II modeling system. This system and others like it, which are available commercially, are often used to estimate the broader economic impacts of small changes to a community or local industry.

How should we gauge manufacturing’s importance?

Manufacturing jobs and income are shrinking as a share of the national economy as well as the Midwest economy. Some representatives of manufacturers raise this fact in alarm, worrying that the shrinkage leaves the nation unable to support its needs and wants. But at the same time, some manufacturing advocates sometimes claim that the sector’s is mis-measured and undercounted. Meanwhile, economists mostly applaud diminishing manufacturing jobs as a harbinger of continued enhancements to productivity and standards of living for the average household, pointing instead to rising real output of manufactured goods available at ever-lower prices. How, then, should we think about and measure the economic importance of manufacturing?

To use an agricultural metaphor, manufacturing is no small potatoes for many Midwest communities. In the Seventh District states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin, personal income directly coming from manufacturing activity, on average, is more than 50 percent more concentrated than in the nation as a whole. Much of this personal income reflects wage and salary income attendant to jobs in the sector, as shown below. What’s more, such income and jobs are augmented by services related to manufacturing, such as transportation and warehousing, as well as white-collar business services that are purchased locally by manufacturing operations. All of this, of course, means jobs and income to Midwest residents, firms, and households.

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It is no small concern to manufacturing workers and communities, then, that income and jobs derived from manufacturing have been shrinking as a share of the economy. However, along with other economists, Senior Business Economist Bill Strauss of the Chicago Fed has pointedly illustrated that what is troubling to those who are discomfited is the very same phenomenon that brings about rapidly rising standards of living across a broad spectrum of households. The perpetual innovation and advances in productivity by manufacturers, accompanied by sharp competition among manufacturing firms, have delivered, on average, cheaper, more customized, more durable, and higher quality manufactured goods to households.

Government statisticians at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) calculate prices for manufactured goods purchased in the U.S., and they also do so for a standardized unit of a “real good” including autos, frozen foods, appliances, etc. Qualitative advancements in such manufactured goods are folded into counts of “real goods output,” meaning the total amount—both quantity and quality—of what we buy with our household income.

Over time, such measures show that real output growth by manufacturers in the U.S. and Midwest economies has kept pace with output or total gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Accordingly, if we measure real output produced by the manufacturing sector as a share of the overall economy, the manufacturing share would be virtually constant rather than declining. This is in apparent contradiction to the falling share of income and jobs derived from manufacturing activity.

Yet, in this there is really no paradox when we take into account the fact that the prices of manufacturing goods have fallen even while output has risen. That is, households and businesses are buying a greater “real” quantity of goods, but they are spending less on them overall because falling prices have more than offset the growing quantities being purchased. As illustrated and discussed in the 2004 Economic Report of the President, household and business purchases of manufactured goods have swelled in response to bargain prices, but not enough to sustain the manufacturing sector’s share of total revenue (and income).

A much lesser reason for manufacturing’s falling share is that a greater portion of domestic goods are produced abroad. As the Report illustrates, if the U.S. trade deficit had been hypothetically held to zero while U.S. manufacturing productivity were allowed to improve at its historic rate from 1970 to 2000, the U.S. proportion of employment in manufacturing would be only 14 percent in year 2000 rather than its actual 13 percent. Accordingly, rising productivity in domestic manufacturing accounts for the lion’s share of the decline in manufacturing share of employment from 25 percent in 1970. And yes, even that part of the shift from manufacturing to services related to the rise in imports has helped to buoy U.S. living standards because some goods can be produced abroad more cheaply, thereby allowing U.S. workers to instead produce greater services for domestic consumption.

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Business services as a growth sector for Great Lakes cities?

As manufacturing activity shrinks and relocates, large cities of the Midwest look to another staple of their economic base, business and professional services. Large cities everywhere typically serve as centers of finance, communication, governance, and varied business services. In the Midwest, business service specializations in cities originally derived from goods production, as surrounding farms and factories looked to cities for financing, advertising, management expertise, product design, legal services, and engineering, as well as computer systems advice, more recently.

In the past few decades, agriculture and manufacturing activity have been shrinking in the Midwest, at least in terms of nominal personal income arising from manufacturing firms. In the overall U.S., for example, personal income derived from manufacturing activity has fallen from 32.9 percent to 15.5 percent from 1969 to 2004. This falloff is especially prominent in large Midwest cities, where manufacturing once thrived due to urban freight transportation advantages and the intense workforce needs of mass production.

Can advanced business services help fill the void in Midwest cities’ economies? There are several reasons to focus attention on these industries. First, there is already a pronounced urban location propensity for business services, so prospects for this sector in large cities are perhaps better than for others; also, in the overall U.S. economy, the business services sector has recently been a growth leader. Finally, many business services employ highly skilled occupations, and they tend to generate high levels of wages and income that may directly and indirectly buoy large city economies.

On the latter point, as formally defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), the “professional and technical services sector,” NAICS sector 54, tends to employ an above-average share of highly-educated (and highly paid) workers. As described by federal government statistical agencies (Census and BLS), the sector’s industries employ many executive and technical occupations, namely those found in research and development, legal services, management consulting, accounting, advertising, engineering, public relations, and product design.

In the analysis that follows, a focus on the NAICS 54 sector is advantageous because its services are almost exclusively sold to other businesses rather than to households, and many of these services can be sold to customers located far away. In thinking about regional economies, such tradable services may offer a wide scope for possible growth and development. Moreover, data covering employment in the sector are available for geographic regions as small as metropolitan areas.

Rapid growth characterizes the business services sector. The chart below illustrates that as a share of total payroll employment, “professional and technical services” has expanded from 4.2% to 5.3% from 1990 to 2005. The sector’s average annual growth of 3.0% per year easily exceeds that of total payroll job growth (1.3%), adding 2.5 million jobs to the U.S. economy since 1990.

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Business services’ urban orientation can be conveniently described by an index of employment. The concentration index is the ratio of two shares. For the ratio, the numerator is the business services sector’s share of total jobs in a particular region. The denominator is the business services sector’s share of total jobs in the overall U.S. And so, for example, if the sectoral share of total jobs in a particular region is equal to the sectoral share of jobs in the U.S., the index will take on a value of one. To the extent that a region’s share of jobs found in business services exceeds the nation’s, the index takes on a value greater than one, and so on.

Such a concentration index is constructed below for the most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S. The top five metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs)—New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco—are, taken as group, more than 50 percent more concentrated in business services jobs than the overall U.S. Moreover, an hierarchy of this concentration by city size is evident as we expand the index to include less populous metropolitan areas. Though still well above parity with the nation, the indexes of the top ten and top 20 most populous metropolitan areas lie below the concentration of the top five most populous metropolitan areas.

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Time trends in business services employment also tell us some important economic features. Most prominently, the concentration of business services employment in large urban areas has been falling (i.e., business services jobs have been spreading out toward smaller cities) in the U.S. since 1990. Apparently, the greater ability and lower cost to communicate electronically over time has allowed smaller cities, as well as other nonurban settings, to win out over large, densely populated cities that more easily facilitate face-to-face interactions.

It has been observed that business services employment dipped more than the overall employment during the recessionary periods of the early 1990s and 2000–03. Such cyclical sensitivity to the general economy has long characterized so-called blue-collar and production employment, but its emergence for occupations in business services was somewhat novel during the recession of 1990–91 and its aftermath, when labor market restructuring of mid-level managers and other white-collar occupations took place. In the more recent recessionary period, white-collar employment declines in business services were associated somewhat with the slackening of investment in information equipment and associated services. More generally, many business services may be characterized as “investment goods” by companies, meaning that their purchase tends to slacken during recessionary and subsequent recovery periods, when firms no longer need to expand their own production capacity.

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Interstate Income Convergence and Development Policy

These days, there is some concern over rising income inequality among workers and households in the United States, especially slow wage growth at the bottom of the income distribution. In contrast, from a longer-term perspective, America’s general experience with household well-being has been strongly positive—both across time and geographically. Over the 20th century, household incomes have risen many times over. Reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas document American progress in tangible living standards, such as gains in homeownership, rising income, shorter work weeks, and rising life expectancy.

In its 2005 Annual Report, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland takes a geographic perspective on economic progress. Here again, a longer-term perspective is very positive. Against the backdrop of rising national standards of living, the report finds increasing geographic income equality rather than inequality. In particular, average incomes across U.S. multi-state regions, and among states in general, have been profoundly converging rather than diverging.

The causes and mechanisms of this income convergence are worth exploring in identifying possible lessons and directions for economic development policy today. What factors and policies can keep states and regions out in front of the race for economic well being? States in the Midwest are especially concerned that they are falling behind economic growth and well-being of some other states in the South and West.

In its methodological approach, the Cleveland Fed analysis attempts to explain the lack of full convergence of interstate per capita income since 1934. Neoclassical economic theory predicts that full economic convergence will take place in a flexible market economy, such as the U.S. economy. If, as we generally believe to be the case in the U.S., states share the same technologies in production, and if factors of production (labor and capital) are mobile across regions, then wages and household incomes should converge. Such convergence takes place over time as workers migrate toward better jobs and income or as capital investment follows greater returns in lower-cost regions. (There are other variants of the economy’s flexibility that achieve the same result).

As the Cleveland Fed’s chart below shows, in the U.S., state per capita income has mostly converged since 1930—it has converged from a standard deviation of around 0.4 to a mostly flat standard deviation of 0.15 since the late 1980s. Much of this convergence reflects rapid growth and economic progress in the formerly underdeveloped southern states. In the South, major public investments in education and roads, accompanied by private investments by manufacturing companies and more recently by services, have brought up incomes close to national norms and eliminated many areas in dire poverty.

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, 2005 Annual Report

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States of the Seventh Federal Reserve District have historically enjoyed average incomes above the nation. However, in recent years, per capita income growth in the District has lagged the nation’s average. (The Midwest web page allows visitors to build customized charts of state personal income). The chart below illustrates that District states’ per capita income remained at more than 10 percent above the nation’s average during the early 1950s. By the late 1970s, relative income had converged to levels only 5 percent above the nation. A more preciptious decline took place from the late 1970s to 1983 when relative income first fell below the national average, and remained there throughout the 1980s. The more prosperous times of the 1990s lifted the region’s incomes above parity for awhile only to fall below once again in the current decade.

As the second chart below reveals, all five states of the Seventh District have experienced relative declines since 1969.

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