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America's Growth Corridors: The Key to National Revival

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America's Growth Corridors: The Key to National Revival

February 25, 2013
Urban PolicyOther

Much of the discussion about American economic recovery and growth in 2012 focused on the usual suspects: regions on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and on the shores of the Great Lakes. But the best recent economic record, as well as the best prospects for future prosperity, are to be found elsewhere in the United States.

We have identified four regions of the country that we call "growth corridors." What they lack in media attention they make up for in past performance and likely future success. Over the past decade-and, in some cases, far longer-these regions have created more jobs and gained more population than their counterparts along the ocean coasts or along the Great Lakes.

The four growth corridors are:

1. The Great Plains region, made up of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas

2. The "Third Coast" stretch of counties whose shores abut the Gulf of Mexico and which range through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida

3. The "Intermountain West," consisting of counties in the north of New Mexico and Arizona, parts of eastern California and western regions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, as well as the non-coastal eastern regions of Oregon and Washington and all of Idaho, Utah, and Nevada

4. The "Southeast Manufacturing Belt" of counties in eastern Arkansas, all of Tennessee, and large swaths of Kentucky, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and southwestern Virginia

These regions have different histories and different trajectories into the future, but they share certain key drivers of economic growth: lower costs (particularly for housing); better business climates; and population growth. Some have benefited from the strong global market for commodities, particularly food, natural gas, and oil. Others are expanding because of a resurgence in manufacturing in the United States.

In this report, we describe the growth corridors in some detail and explore what their success means for the country as a whole. Part 1 describes what the corridors are, in terms of geography, population, and history. Part 2 explains why they are succeeding while America's traditional economic powerhouses are growing at relatively anemic rates. Part 3 explains how the growth corridors are advancing, noting the key industries in each. Part 4 considers the contrast between the growth corridors and the rest of the nation and explains why the growth-corridor mix of culture and policies is crucial to the future success of the United States.

To be sure, New York, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Chicago will remain the country's leading metropolitan agglomerations for the foreseeable future. But an important urban story of the coming decades will be the emergence of interior metropolitan areas such as Houston, Dallas–Fort Worth, Tampa, Oklahoma City, and Omaha. On a smaller scale, fast-growing Lafayette (Louisiana), Baton Rouge, Midland (Texas), Sioux Falls (South Dakota), Fargo, and a host of other smaller cities will continue to expand. We may also witness the resurgence of New Orleans as a leading cultural and business center for the south and the Gulf Coast.

This ascendancy of the growth corridors follows one of the great principles of American history. The "most important effect of the frontier," as Frederick Jackson Turner noted, was how it promoted democracy by spreading opportunity.1 The expanding frontier-then rural, now metropolitan-reinforces the fundamental individualism at the core of American culture.

Equally important, the corridors reveal the most immediate way to propel a broad growth trajectory for the entire United States. By restoring a strong growth path, as well as the optimism that accompanies it, the corridors could help bring about a resurgence whose benefits will extend far beyond their boundaries to touch the entire nation.