Don’t forget the campaign trail stops
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Kai Ryssdal: Tax breaks and unemployment insurance are the language of economic proposals. But phrases like that — and the politics that come with them — can sometimes become disconnected from what’s actually happening out in the real world.
Commentator Angela Glover Blackwell says no matter who wins, after this election they ought to keep that real world in mind.
Angela Glover Blackwell: Every four years, presidential candidates haul in their klieg lights to places like Flynt, Scranton and Youngstown in search of the elusive swing voter. But once the campaign is over, the lights will dim and these cities will again fade into the shadows. Their economies will continue to scatter. Their residents will find opportunity harder and harder to grasp. And the backbone of America’s middle class will keep crumbling.
What can small industrial cities do to reverse the trend? They can claim the mantle of innovation and become pioneers in ground-breaking public policy. These cities might not get much help from the outside, but that doesn’t mean they can’t push these ideas forward.
Take Albany, N.Y. Leaders there have teamed up with local scientists to offer low-income young people the chance to train in the fast-growing field of nanoscience. And in Youngstown, Ohio, the city is helping young entrepreneurs start new business-to-business software companies and making the city a national hub for this expanding market.
Graduates of Kalamazoo, Mich.,’s public school system, get free college tuition. That’s one way to stop brain drain.
These cities have made valiant efforts to prop up their economy, but they can’t do it alone. They need help only the federal government can provide. Most important, they need investment in infrastructure, public transportation, broadband, green power. They need to be able to capitalize again on their legacies as port cities and rail hubs and regional economic centers. They need the tools to compete in the 21st century economy, one that’s more Google and T. Boone Pickens, than assembly lines and Henry Ford. They need more than campaign rhetoric.
Thankfully, relatively minor changes in these small cities can lead to enormous progress. The klieg lights will go out in November. But the fight to renew the promise of these cities must go on.
Ryssdal: Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO of the PolicyLink Institute. It’s a non-profit based in Oakland, California.
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