In this article for The Daily Yonder, Drabenstott argues that small rural towns have for too long competed with each other to lure new jobs. He says they should start to take a regional approach and work together.
"The rural Midwest could have an economic future as bright as its vibrant past. But it is basing its twenty-first-century future on a twentieth-century playbook. This is not a recipe for success. Towns and counties compete with neighboring towns and counties for jobs and investments. Industrial recruitment-"smokestack chasing"-is the norm. Economic development agencies spend millions on infrastructure and tax breaks to lure companies from afar instead of creating new jobs at home. Boosters sell the rural Midwest as a cheap place to make things, ignoring the region's many other economic assets-its natural resources, its hard-working people, its central location, its schools and universities, and its scientific base, among others -that could all be leveraged into a competitive new economy.
The path to stronger economies in the rural Midwest is plain. Partnering regionally to compete globally is what's needed. This pathway will lead to scores of multicounty, self-defined regions across the Midwest. Only by combining their forces to create new businesses and good jobs at home will the towns and counties of the rural Midwest compete and thrive in a global economy where this sort of collaboration is fast becoming the norm."