The Midwest challenge

Dayton has more patents per capita than any other American city.

That’s perhaps the most surprising line in Richard Longworth’s Caught in the Middle, a well-argued manifesto written to help the Midwest confront the challenges of globalization. There is plenty in Caught in the Middle that I disagree with – his implicit elevation of manufacturing over other economic pursuits and his belief that higher education should become more attuned to current workforce issues, to name two – but I think his central thesis is unarguable.

Longworth concentrates on how the Midwest has largely failed to adapt to this century’s knowledge-driven, global economy (exceptions include Chicago and pockets like orthopedics mecca Warsaw, Indiana). His reporting on the sheer blindness of some regions – Cleveland, take a bow – is deeply worrying. For those with larger horizons, the issues that are graphic in much of the Midwest can equally be applied in many other regions around the world.

And can that snippet about Dayton, Ohio really be true? I wonder. Longworth cites the Wright brothers, of course, but also the invention of the cash register, microfiche, the bar code, the parking meter, the movie projector, the stepladder, the parachute, the gas mask and the pop-top can. That’s an impressive list. But more patents per capita than Cambridge, Berkeley, Palo Alto, New Haven, Redmond, Yorktown Heights (IBM research), Murray Hill (Bell Labs), etc? It seems unlikely to me. But I’d love to be proved wrong.

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