How the Rust Belt Is Shaking Off Its Rust

In interviews with hundreds of people all over the country, we found excitement about major breakthroughs in innovation that are leading to transformational new products. There are well over 35 of “brainbelts” all over the country, many of them in forgotten Rust Belt cities that once had been industrial and manufacturing powerhouses. Today, many of these Rust Belt cities are reinventing how we make things, and they are becoming vibrant again after decades of decline. For example, Pittsburgh is moving from steel to robotics, with Google and Uber reenergizing the city.

How have they done it? First, their universities, legacy companies, startups, and local officials have learned how to closely collaborate in a process we call “sharing brainpower.”

Second, they are fusing their old manufacturing skills with automation and 3D printing, new discoveries, and new materials. They are creating a whole new branch of the economy by using cheap, tiny sensors to integrate wireless information technology and big data analytics.

For decades, China has hurt the “old” Western economies by making things as cheap as possible. Now the U.S. is responding by making things as smart as possible. Smart innovation is replacing cheap labor as the hottest source of global competitive advantage. “Old” economies are taking advantage of their unique (and often overlooked) assets such as world-class universities, freedom of thought (out-of-the-box thinking is indispensable for innovation), and a reliable legal system.

Source: How the Rust Belt Is Shaking Off Its Rust
By Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker © 2017 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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