Making the Midwest the Place to Be

Monmouth, IL – A native of the Midwest says the region is a "balkanized" place. He says that needs to change. States need to work together to generate economic development.

Richard Longworth says states should forget about boundaries and natural dividing lines such as the Mississippi River.

"Illinois and Iowa always feel they have to compete somehow," says Longworth. "Illinois is not competing with Iowa anymore. We're both competing with folks 10,000 miles away and we have to leverage all of our resources and strengths if we're going to compete."

Longworth says an industry that locates in western Illinois, for example, could very well draw half its workers from eastern Iowa. He says that benefits both states and demonstrates the thinking needed to revitalize the Midwest.

"We should be working together as a region to market ourselves - the southern states do this quite effectively - to encourage industries to come to the Midwest, recognizing that an industry that takes root anywhere in the Midwest is, through the ripple effect, going to benefit all of us," says Longworth.

Longworth is originally from Iowa. He is now a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He's also an author and former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He's reported from 75 countries.

Longworth believes one of the Midwest's strengths is it's reliable source of fresh water. He says the region needs to figure out which industries rely on fresh water, then work to bring them here.

Longworth says there is not much money in the Midwest. He says that's why the states in region should establish a common venture capital fund.

Longworth says the recession might spur the region into a different way of thinking.

"The recession just might be the good swift kick that we needed," says Longworth. "Just to get us out of denial. Get us to realize this time is different and we gotta do something about it."

Longworth believes universities and colleges will need to lead the way, and made his comments as Monmouth College unveiled its Midwest Studies initiative. The college will strive to get its students more involved in the community and avoid the brain drain that happens as young people leave for greener pastures.

College President Mauri Ditzler says a degree from Midwestern schools is too often seen as a ticket out of town. He acknowledges schools often go along with that way of thinking.

Ditzler wants that to change. He believes the Midwest will prove to be the most interesting place in the country in the coming years.

"What we're looking for is students from all over the country saying 'You know, the hot area, the hot job opportunities, the things that are really interesting are out in Illinois and Ohio and Iowa.' That didn't used to be the case but it is now," says Ditzler.

The Midwest Studies initiative was launched with an economic development forum. Longworth was the keynote speaker. Four others were also on the panel to share their thoughts on the challenges facing the Midwest.

Longworth gave a brief presentation before the forum started. You can listen to his remarks by clicking on the audio button.