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April 29, 2008

Someone Call the Doctor—Regions Without Borders?

Two fine studies have been released this year that can guide the slow-growing Midwest in finding its “way forward.” At a time when national sentiment has been running high to tighten national borders between the U.S. and other nations, both reports strongly argue for lowering restrictions on nearby borders—namely those between Midwest states and between the U.S. and Canada along the Great Lakes border. So too, cooperative strategies across local borders are urged to address the Midwest’s economic challenges.

Accomplished journalist R.C. Longworth recently published an insightful and accessible book containing lucid explanations and gripping Midwest stories that bring to life how global upheaval and technological changes have affected the Midwest economy. From farm to factory, from small town to metropolis, Longworth tells stories of the region, its places, and its people. To gather his observations, he spent months traveling around the region. And, having been born and raised in small-town Iowa and covered the region and the world for a major Chicago newspaper, Longworth knows where to look!

More importantly, Longworth understands today’s basic mechanisms of economic change—and their impacts on places and people. To be sure, owing largely to technological advances in communication and transportation, the world has “gone flat” in one sense. Goods and services can be produced anywhere and delivered right here, thereby exposing Midwest workers to competition and upheaval.

However, these same changes have concurrently made the economic landscape “more spikey” than ever. Those places that have succeeded in the new environment are well-advantaged mountains of economic specialization and formidable scale. Such places include large metropolitan areas and mega-cities composed of several proximate cities that draw the best and brightest talents together and that produce advanced services in high-valued legal, consulting, technology, administration and the arts. They also include emerging manufacturing regions such as the mid-South—home of foreign-domiciled auto production.

What holds back the Midwest from such invention and re-invention? Longworth believes many Midwesterners still do not understand globalization and instead cling to ideas and strategies that attempt to bring back the region’s glorious form and past. Looking at its reflection in today’s global looking glass can help the region to find new directions—to imagine a new Midwest economic landscape.

In searching for the correct policy framework to re-work the region, Longworth also believes that national governments are too “clumsy … to cope with a post-national world. … But that the smaller building blocks—cities, counties and states—are too weak and isolated to swing much weight by themselves in an economy that spans the globe.” Accordingly, the Midwest must put aside some long-standing boundaries and competitive behaviors such as inter-state tax competition and balkanized transportation systems. Instead, Longworth calls for extensive regionwide dialogue to achieve creative and cooperative policies.

The region has common interests and goals, but fails to recognize and act effectively. To move forward, regionwide conversations must take place, perhaps assisted by a region-wide publication—electronic or print or both. To be a wellspring of new ideas and policies, the Midwest must have at least one think tank of its own to see the region’s greater possibility for growth and re-invention. Longworth calls on regional foundations, research universities, public leaders, and Reserve Banks to move quickly and boldly in this direction. The Southern Growth Policies Board —founded in 1971—may be one model to draw on as the region fashions its own organization to serve as the fountain for cooperative development.

Not all of Longworth’s immediate prescriptions are intangible. The region is rich in the assets of wealth creation such as highly skilled professionals, cultural and recreational draws, and global company centers. But in observing successful regions in the age of globalization, Longworth sees that proximity and scale count for much in marshalling diverse assets into globally meaningful centers. He proposes that the region consider bold interpersonal transportation systems such as high speed rail.

Another recent study—this one from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program—also analyzes the new global economic paradigm and how the Midwest must adapt to its challenges. John Austin and his co-authors take the regional approach to global economic adaptation one step further by recognizing that, for the Midwest, the lowering of national border barriers is acutely important. Along the Great Lakes, Canada’s people and resources closely hug the border and are closely integrated with the Midwest economy. Over two-thirds of cross-border trade between Canada and the U.S. takes place among Great Lakes states and the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The region shares many industries that span the border. Automotive, steel, biotechnology, and recreation/tourism are closely linked in their supply chains, transportation infrastructure, and work force. Such industries and their region could benefit from something more like the European Common Market approach.

But according to Austin, at a time when the Midwest must maximize its advantages to achieve competitive prominence, border restrictions have been rising rather than falling. As border security measures have increased,, border-crossing times have been rising, along with general doubts and uncertainty concerning the openness of the border. So too, cooperative initiatives to clean-up the region’s shared water resources are not moving along fast enough. More generally, the region does not recognize its shared interests—especially the great potential to grow and develop through joint study and policy action.

What might such policy actions be? The report lays out a blueprint for Bi-National Great Lakes economic leadership:

● By 2010, Develop a Bi-National Innovation Fund and Strategy
● By 2010, Redevelop North America’s Freshwater Coast
● By 2015, Define and Implement the “U.S.–Canada Border of the Future”
● By 2025, Realize BiNational Great Lakes Carbon Goals and Renewable Energy Standards
● By 2030, Create a Common Market for Commerce and Human Capital

As a long-time researcher, observer, and policy-discussion participant in this arena, I am encouraged to find these ideas being resurrected. As long ago as the 1980s, during the very troubled economic times in the Midwest, many of these same observations and recommendations were advanced.

Two developments dampened forward momentum. For one, the region’s economy enjoyed a strong rebound during the 1990s as surging U.S. economic growth shook the region from its torpor. The region’s flagship companies learned much from their global competitors coming out of the 1980s. While the rebound was welcome and enjoyable, some of the driving force behind fundamental policy innovation in regional development policy was lost through complacency.

The second reason: No region-wide dialogue was created on a sustained basis, and no organizations took on a leadership role in driving forward such a regionwide agenda. The sole exception might be efforts to restore and clean up the region’s fresh waters in the Great Lakes basin, which have progressed thanks to regional organizations such as the Council of Great Lakes Governors, The Great Lakes Commission, and a strong supporting cast.

This time around, inspired by new work, such as the Longworth book and Austin’s study, I believe that we will (very soon) see at least some exploratory efforts towards an enduring pan-regional policy network.

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Posted by Testa at 2:32 PM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2008

Innovation: Measurement and Policies

By Rick Mattoon

It has become almost hackneyed to proclaim that we live in a knowledge economy driven by innovation. The mantra of current economic development gurus is that the race goes to the smartest and the swiftest. Yet, despite this popular consensus that innovation may be the key factor in determining future growth in the economy, we actually know very little about how to measure innovation and what policies might influence innovation.

To begin with, we need a definition. Most definitions of innovation begin with “big bang” product innovation that alters the course of economies and enhances the quality of life. The invention of the light bulb and the airplane, as well as biotech breakthroughs, are just a few examples. But large gains are also made through process innovations that are often more subtle. The application of information technology to banking and financial firms and the advent of inventory and logistics management in retail trade come to mind. These process innovations change the efficiency with which inputs are used while vastly increasing the scale of output. This leads to goods and services that are faster, cheaper, and better. In fact, when the Chicago Fed studied the turnaround in the Midwest economy in the mid-1990s, we concluded that part of the region’s success was based on improving the efficiency of the existing economic base. Innovation in traditional industries explained much of the turnaround, rather than the creation of wholly new industries or products.

In January 2008, the Advisory Committee on Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century Economy issued a thoughtful report on how we might define and measure innovation. The report postulates that, while innovation is critical to the economy, “the nexus between innovation and growth is one of the least understood areas of economic life.” To bring clarity, the committee defined innovation as “the design, invention, development, and/or implementation of new or altered products, services, processes, systems, organizational structures, or business models for the purpose of creating new value for customers in a way that improves the financial returns to the firm.” The report then set about suggesting proxies for measuring innovation.

The committee rejected the notion of coming up with a single, all encompassing measure. Given that the economy and individual firms do not innovate the same way at the same time, the committee felt a single measure would lead to policy distortions. For example, it might be inappropriate to legislate public policy supporting an industry or firm that is going through a rapid period of innovation over an industry whose innovation breakthrough might be several years away. However, the report suggests a clear starting point by emphasizing that we need a better measurement of total factor productivity (TFP)—the change in productivity left over after accounting for the growth in labor and capital. Total factor productivity does provide a measure that can be augmented and refined by several policies to expand data collection on firm investment in key factors such as research and development, technology, and human capital.

So what policies did the Committee specifically suggest? Here is just a partial list:
• Develop annual, industry-level measures of total factor productivity by restructuring the National Income and Product Accounts of the United States (NIPAs);
• Create a supplemental innovation account for the NIPAs in order to expand the categories of innovation inputs and allow those inputs to be tracked as they flow between industries;
• Improve service sector data and increase survey coverage to provide the data needed to improve estimates from the integrated gross domestic product/productivity accounts and supplemental innovation account;
• Improve measurement of intangibles, particularly intellectual property; and
• Better leverage existing data and increase access to enhance research on innovation.

In addition the committee recommended the business community:
• Institute firm-level measurements of innovation to test the correlation on firm performance; and
• Develop and implement best practice in innovation management and accounting.

Another interesting local approach is a new innovation index developed by the University of Michigan at Dearborn’s Center for Innovation Research. This index tracks six subindexes that reflect the state of innovation in Michigan and will be reported on a quarterly basis. The six measures are:
• Trademark applications,
• Innovation workers (measured as a percentage of the labor force),
• Small Business Administration (SBA) loans,
• Venture capital,
• Incorporations, and
• Gross job creation.

The index is benchmarked to 100 for the first quarter of 2007. The most recent reading of the index is 95.8.

These efforts at measuring innovation in the economy continue to be a messy process, but the potential dividends of better understanding and calibrating the role of innovation in economic growth is certainly an important step forward. Hopefully better innovation metrics will help guide policymakers and business leaders to make appropriate investments that will strengthen economic growth.

The Department of Commerce continues the dialogue by hosting a summit in Chicago on May 22 discussing actions to be made to secure America's competitiveness.

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Posted by Testa at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2008

Michigan Economic Adjustment: What Role Migration?

What role does migration play in helping regions such as Southeast Michigan adjust to profound economic shocks? For the most part, out-migration is not usually the favored choice of families who have strong social and economic ties to their communities and region. Regions under duress first look to rebuild and reinvent their local economy. But Americans are also a nomadic people. And so, households also adjust to negative economic shocks by picking up and moving to where opportunities for employment and income are more favorable. During the last century, for example, southerners migrated northward in search of the high-paying factory jobs located here, while the population from the Northeast and Midwest continued to flow westward as economies developed in California and other parts of the West. It is not surprising then to find that some Michigan residents may migrate elsewhere unless (or until) economic conditions turn around.

Unlike most U.S. states, Michigan’s economy has not enjoyed any net growth during the entire decade. Decline in the state’s automotive industry has kept its economy reeling. In some ways, this experience is reminiscent of conditions from two decades ago. At that time, the domestic automotive industry struggled with energy and gasoline price spikes that had begun during the mid-1970s. Much as today, the automotive fleets of Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford—known then as the Big Three—had been designed on the larger side, which was better suited to a bygone era of cheap gasoline. Accordingly, auto sales by domestic producers were sharply impacted by OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) gas price spikes, by a federal gasoline rationing program, and by imports of small, fuel-efficient vehicles from (then mostly Japanese) competitors.

Even so, by the beginning of the 1980s, Detroit was making a comeback with its own small cars; back then, the tail winds from a strong U.S. economy was lifting overall automotive sales. Alas, a second global energy price spike, along with two U.S. recessions during the early 1980s, exerted a horrific effect on Michigan and on the Midwest manufacturing belt. Foreign markets were of little help during this era of a rapidly rising dollar, and the region’s agricultural sector experienced profound declines in prices and land values.

The chart below overlays the payroll job trends of that era with that of the past seven years. Following a peak in Michigan job levels in 1979, jobs declined at a pace of over 2% per year for the next four years before bottoming out at the beginning of 1983. In comparison, the recent payroll job decreases in Michigan have been less dramatic, with a cumulative decline of 5 percent from 2001 to date. Similarly, the average state unemployment for all of Michigan had reached 16 percent by 1983, over double what it is today (see chart below).

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

However, it should be noted that Michigan’s economic decline in the current decade has gone on much longer than its decline of the early 1980s. By 1983, Michigan’s payroll employment had begun to climb once again as U.S. consumer purchases of autos rose and as excess inventories of autos were sold off. While recent declines have been less precipitous, the cumulative effect has been no less profound. Annual employment in Michigan has not climbed over the past 7 years, and now stands at over 6% below its level at the beginning of 2001.

How did Michigan households adjust to diminished job and income opportunities in Michigan during the 1980s? In part, Michigan workers and their families left the state in search of opportunities in other regions. Households decide to migrate based on more than local conditions. That is, they also base their decisions on labor market conditions in alternative regions of the country. Although the overall U.S. economy was experiencing recessionary conditions during the early 1980s, Midwest labor markets were far and away more affected. For instance, rising energy prices were spurring economic investment (and jobs) in energy-producing regions, such as Texas–Louisiana and in the western coal fields. Meanwhile, the first surge in high-tech computing production was underway in New England and California, and strong economies were emerging in regions where post-1970s defense spending was growing. The chart below illustrates the difference in unemployment rates between Michigan and the overall U.S. at that time. Michigan’s unemployment rate was 5–6 percentage points above the nation’s from 1980–83.

Click to enlarge.

As the chart below suggests, more households had been moving out of Michigan than moving in throughout the 1970s, with a net out-migration exceeding 50,000 per year by 1974–75. However, this number tripled by 1981–82, exceeding 150,000 per year. Economic recovery eventually unfolded in Michigan, but it did not pull along net migration into Michigan until the early 1990s.

Click to enlarge.

Today, labor market conditions in Michigan, while the worst in the U.S., look mild compared with that of the 1970s and 1980s. Still, the pattern of continual payroll job losses since 2001 gives the impression of long-term structural decline rather than a short-term episode. So far, the pace of out-migration from Michigan has reported to be milder as well, averaging -20,000 per year from 2001 to 2006. A contributing factor for restrained out-migration may be the difference in the age demographics of the population between then and now. Historically, those aged 20–39 have been much more likely to pull up stakes and move out of state. Michigan’s population has aged, with only 37% of the adult population of prime (moving) age today versus 48% in 1980.

Still, out-migration from Michigan may yet increase somewhat. Out-migration from the state has been picking up lately as the decade wears on and employment continues to decline. United Van Lines (UVL) has been tracking data on in-movements versus out-movements of its residential moves by state for many years, and these data tend to accord fairly well with government statistical trends on net migration of population. Recent UVL data for 2007 suggest that out-migration of households exceeded in-migration by a 2 to 1 ratio, while the level of net out-migration of moving trucks is approaching the previous trough experienced in 1981.

Many policy leaders and local communities in Michigan are determined not to let the state’s growth fall further into negative territory. There are concerted initiatives to diversify the region’s economy toward technology industries, services, and recreation-tourism. For example, three of Michigan's universities—the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State—are teaming up to fashion a research corridor that will further stimulate innovation in the state. The research synergies of the three hope to improve technology transfer, share resources, and attract jobs to the state.

Such efforts may well turn around the state’s fortunes over the long term. But following a long and difficult decade for many of the state’s residents, the road ahead does not look any easier—at least for the immediate future. As the U.S. economy slows during the first half of 2008, domestic automotive sales (and production) are also expected to soften.

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Posted by Testa at 1:25 PM | Comments (1)