THE Midwest, long the dead weight of the economy, is rumbling
today as the nation's most robust engine for economic growth.
Midwest manufacturers have recently helped prevent the slowing
national economy from sputtering into outright decline.
In some pockets across the region, the vitality is
extraordinary. In Oshkosh, Wis., Armstrong-Blum Manufacturing
Company is having trouble fully staffing its machine-tool plant.
Winnebago County, Wis., is boasting an almost unheard-of
unemployment rate of less than 2 percent. More broadly, Michigan
logged an unemployment rate in October of 4.4 percent, its lowest
in more than 25 years.
The numbers stand in sharp contrast to such states as
California, where the jobless rate persists at 7.8 percent.
Indeed, the 10-state Midwest region boasted the lowest
unemployment rates of any region last month, helping lower the
nation's jobless rate to 5.5 percent, according to the Labor
"Employment in the Midwest has held up and we're able to act as
a floor" for the economy, says David Allardice, senior vice
president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
Should current trends continue through next month, the Midwest
will have posted 10 straight years of employment growth greater
than the national average. This is the longest such run since World
War II, according to the Federal Reserve.
From auto-parts plants in northern Michigan, to the hulking
steel mills of northwest Indiana, to washing-machine assembly lines
in central Iowa, Midwest factories are buzzing with a verve
unmatched by any other region. The Midwest is not as strong as it
was during the early stage of the current recovery. But it is
holding up better than anywhere else.
Buoying the nation
This is the second time this decade that the Midwest - the
historic hub of US industry - has significantly buoyed the national
economy. Regional manufacturers led the country out of the
For years, Midwest manufacturers stumbled because of
inefficiency and stiff foreign competition. Today, they more often
stand as models of stable employment and streamlined production.
"The term Rust Belt is obsolete; American manufacturers came out
of the last recession far more competitive than they started in the
1980s," Secretary of Labor Robert Reich told the Monitor.
Midwest manufacturing, although slowing, continues to grow
faster than manufacturing across the national economy. Regional
exports, a valuable prop during a recession, are outstripping the
national growth rate of exports. Midwest manufacturing exports last
year grew three times faster than the national average, according
to the Commerce Department. …