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October 30, 2006

Population Ranks of Midwest Cities

Have you ever heard of Zipf’s Law? I’ll bet you haven’t. Zipf’s Law states that there typically appears to be a numerical regularity between the population size and population rank of cities within any particular region or nation. Specifically, within a region or nation, multiplying any city’s population size by its rank among cities will yield a constant number throughout the distribution. For instance, if the most populous city in a nation has a population of 10 million, the constant should be 1.0 multiplied by 10 million; the second largest city should have a population of 5 million so that 2 times 5 million yields 10 million once again; and so on.

As a fun way to display the size distribution of metropolitan areas in the Great Lakes, we tried to fit Zipf’s Law to the size distribution of metropolitan areas for the (census) year 2005. Guess what? We found that Zipf’s Law nailed it.

For the statistical trial, we chose the Great Lakes region which is defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis as the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. As it turned out, and as shown in the chart below, Zipf's regularity applies very closely to the population distribution of Great Lakes metropolitan areas.

My prior thinking was that this region, which we think of as the industrial belt, was a cohesive economic region with close ties among firms and workers. In fact, there is no economic theory at all behind the Zipf’s Law and its relationship between population size and rank. Yet, in choosing a region, I thought it to be a promising trial to choose a region in which we might expect to find the statistical regularity if it was undergirded by economic linkages.


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In the rank distribution, the Chicago metropolitan area leads the pack with approximately 9.4 million. The Detroit area comes in second with, as might be expected, a population of one-half of Chicago’s at 4.5 million. The third metropolitan area, Cleveland, does not quite fit, dropping down too far with a population at just over 2 million. Still, the remaining distribution fits well enough so that G. K. Zipf’s regularity retains our fascination.

Perhaps it is only the statistical geeks among us who love this sort of analysis. Still, almost everyone loves a good horse race. So, for the rest of you, here is a comparative graph of the population growth for the top 10 most populous Great Lakes metropolitan areas from 1990 to 2005. And the winner is … Indianapolis, with a population growth of 27 percent , 346 thousand. What a town!


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Posted by Testa at 6:08 AM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2006

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.


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Posted by Testa at 8:31 AM | Comments (1)

October 11, 2006

Global Agriculture Conference

On average, rural America has not been faring as well as metropolitan America in terms of population and income growth. Is this trend yet another painful adjustment that can be attributed to globalization?

Globalization policies continue to be closely intertwined with agricultural markets, which have been the historic lifeblood of rural communities in the Midwest. Last month, the Chicago Fed held a conference on “Globally Competitive Agriculture in the Midwest.” The event included the Midwest release of a task force report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Modernizing America’s Food and Farm Policy. Conference discussion concerned how current global trends and policy debates are affecting agriculture and rural communities, and how prospective policies such as the next Federal farm bill and the Doha round of the world trade talks might play out.

During the conference discussion, several presenters expressed the opinion, without challenges from the audience, that globalization was in some way responsible for the lagging economic performance and stark challenges facing the rural Midwest. However, I think that it is somewhat mistaken to confuse globalization with technological advances and associated structural changes now taking place in the production of agriculture.

First, to concede some ground to the opposition, several forces of globalization have hastened structural adjustments taking place in smaller towns and rural communities. In particular, an expansion of the world market for goods and services has sharpened the economic specializations of many countries and their subnational regions. For the U.S., as global markets in goods, services, and capital have been opened up, the domestic economy has shifted away from manufacturing production and less-skilled services such as back office processing, some software production, and call center activity in favor of advanced services such as finance, investment, and management. For such advanced services, the large urban form, rather than the smaller city or rural town, is the more productive and favorable locale. This preference of industries performing such advanced services has contributed to the growth of large metropolitan areas, such as New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and San Francisco.

Aside from that, there is little to argue about globalization as a detriment to rural economic growth. And even at that, I would argue that technological advancements, rather than globalization, account for most of the structural changes that are moving us toward an advanced services economy in the U.S. New technologies, particularly their adaptation in wireless communication and in advanced computing, are highly complementary to such service production, with or without globalization. This is evident the world over as wages, salaries, and employment opportunities have risen sharply for those workers who have the education and technical skills to work with advanced communication and technical tools.

While rural areas have not fared as well in advanced services, the net effects of globalization on commodity production and income in rural areas are mixed rather than one-sided. In much of rural America, the local economy is highly dependent on commodity agriculture or on commodity materials such as energy products, minerals, and timber. Here, relentless productivity advances, especially in agriculture, have obviated the need for as much labor as in the past. In turn, lessened labor demand has put pressure on rural growth.

Yet, such labor substitution is hardly related to globalization. It is true that global markets can introduce competition into commodity markets. Yet, on the flip side, falling transport costs and more open markets also increase possibilities for heightened exports and firmer prices for the commodities produced in rural areas. In the Midwest, for example, global exports in soybean and corn have helped to sustain jobs and income. More recently, as developing countries have improved their diets, U.S. exports of beef, pork, chicken, and poultry have grown. Here, the competitive advantage in grain production translates into local livestock production. The processing of grains and livestock (in order to shed weight and volume before exports) is kept close to the location of grain and livestock production, that is, rural communities.

Growing global growth has also boosted prices of carbon-based fuels. As a result, exploration, mining, and production of fuel sources are providing more jobs and lifting income in many rural communities. In corn-producing states, federal subsidies have combined with rising prices of fossil fuels to spur rapid expansion of corn-based ethanol capacity as a viable energy source. As a result, prices for corn have been raised and are expected to remain so. Moreover, ethanol plants are being built near corn production in rural communities, thereby boosting associated manufacturing jobs.

But ethanol production has not been the only source of manufacturing jobs in rural communities. In the Midwest, as shown below, rural and nonmetropolitan counties have been gaining share of manufacturing jobs at the expense of metropolitan counties for several decades. There are several reasons for this shift, but the dominant factor points to technological changes in production. In particular, areas with lower population density are favored for many types of production due to easier transportation access and lower land costs. And if these forces have been accelerated by global competition, rural areas are the beneficiaries. Income from manufacturing is replacing income earned on farms as the dominant economic base across the Midwest.



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Of course, rural communities in the Midwest face many challenges in the years ahead. For one, manufacturing production centers sited in rural communities are highly vulnerable to global competition. So, too, commodity prices have historically been volatile such that commodity-based economies have often been whipsawed by downward price swings. Global markets show no promise of easing the variability of commodity price swings.

For these reasons, rural communities are striving to avail themselves of development opportunities as they present themselves. On October 24–25, 2006, the Chicago Fed will be partnering with Iowa groups on an informational conference in Ames, Iowa, called “Expanding the Rural Economy through Alternative Energy, Sustainable Agriculture, and Entrepreneurship.”

The question of whether globalization has been a net plus or a net negative for rural areas is not an easy one. Yet, more than ever, rural communities will want to stay closely attuned to trends and policies related to global affairs.


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Posted by Testa at 2:01 PM | Comments (0)

October 5, 2006

Indiana observations

Each autumn, I have traveled down to the Indianapolis area to deliver a local perspective on the economy to the Indiana Economic Development Forum. This autumn, the Forum addresses the theme of “work force training and education.” As I survey Indiana’s economic performance over the past 15 years, it strikes me that Indiana is on the right track with its strategic focus on boosting work force training and education. So too, where feasible, an emphasis on technology transfer, firm growth, and entrepreneurial activity may be needed to create matching job opportunities for the more highly skilled Hoosiers.

Indiana and its neighboring Midwestern states rank near the top in manufacturing concentration. Even so, as the figure below shows, the deep recessions of the early 1980s sharply shifted the region’s share of manufacturing jobs elsewhere (right axis, green line). As the steel and auto industries waned here, the computer and military equipment industries grew elsewhere.


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The figure also reveals the period’s depressing effects on the region’s per capita income as a result of manufacturing job loss and slow recovery (left axis, blue line). Since then, per capita income, as compared to the national average, has not fully recovered in the Great Lakes region, nor in Indiana, for that matter.

However, Indiana’s job growth and share of manufacturing jobs have recently out-performed the surrounding region (bottom chart). Indeed, even though the level of jobs has declined, Indiana has exceeded its 1980s share of the nation’s manufacturing jobs. Consequently, while the relative per capita income in the Great Lakes region has taken a dive over the last few years, Indiana’s income has remained about the same in relation to the national average.

Something is going right in Indiana, or at least it is going a little better than in surrounding Midwestern states. But given the notably stronger performance gains in Indiana’s share of the nation’s manufacturing jobs, shouldn’t its per capita income be rising a bit, rather than being stuck in place?

The answer again likely lies in today’s broad economic trends. Indiana’s manufacturing wages lie below its Midwestern neighbors. This can be seen in the figure below, which illustrates the higher hourly earnings of production workers in Michigan versus Indiana. Perhaps the state’s favorable wage environment for employers, along with other business climate attractions, partly explain its job share gains in manufacturing, even as per capita income gains are not quite so robust.


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Another reason for less robust progress in Indiana’s per capita income can be found in service sector versus manufacturing wage trends. While average wage levels in manufacturing tend to exceed average service sector wage rates in the nation, service sector wage growth has been catching up to manufacturing.

How can Indiana improve its living standards? In our market-oriented economy, higher wages and earnings are currently being paid to those with higher skills and education. For this reason, investment in education and work force training are one important part in achieving higher income for Hoosiers.

In addition to higher skills, there must be job opportunities available for those enhanced skills and training. Sometimes, such local job opportunities do emerge as new firms and capital investment migrate into states in search of favorable work force skills and education. However, in other instances, skilled workers move out of state in search of greater opportunity. To forestall this loss of skilled workers, Indiana and other states are pursuing not only work force training and education, but also local technology transfer from technical universities along with the encouragement of entrepreneurial ventures.


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Posted by Testa at 2:47 PM | Comments (0)