Across the Rust Belt, shifts in the economic climate and expectations for the future have been the norm since the advent of the decades-long decline in labor-intensive manufacturing jobs. That uncertainty grew worse still following the Great Recession, when thousands of manufacturing jobs were shed quite quickly across the region, leading economic forecasts to grow precipitously poorer.
Indeed, the struggles in former manufacturing hubs from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin reverberated across the 2016 presidential election. All the while, more and more Midwest communities have explored 21st century job training and customized programs at community colleges and elsewhere to prepare the next generation of workers for a post-manufacturing reality. That has had mixed results despite a surging need for qualified employees in healthcare, education and tech.
Yet, quietly, a number of mid-size Rust Belt cities have reinvented themselves with little fanfare by embracing advanced manufacturing and the technologies sure to power that industry for decades to come. It is becoming more common, not less, to hear about the diversified economies in places like Pittsburgh, Akron, Grand Rapids and Minneapolis.
Startups and successful advanced manufacturing operations in such locales are betting on the comparable advantage enjoyed in the United States, where pioneers of new materials and technologies are swiftly rewarded and positive disruptions to the economy are more-readily embraced.
This new normal may also have staying power. If advanced manufacturing continues to innovate, the industry will command more markets across the United States and the globe. That, in turn, could lead to the end of outsourcing such jobs to countries like Mexico or China as businesses hitch their success to relevant products made right here at home.