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The Vital Center: A Federal-State Compact to Renew the Great Lakes Region

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Publication Date: October 2006

Publisher(s): The Brookings Institution

Author(s): John C. Austin; Britany Affolter-Caine

Topic: Economics (Economic policy, planning, and development)
Labor (Employment and labor supply)
Labor (Labor policy)
Social conditions (Social policy)

Keywords: common marketplace; economic health; regional unemployment ; engineering and design

Coverage: United States


This landmark report focuses on the unique challenges and opportunities faced by the 12-state Great Lakes region in the 21st century. It’s an ambitious prescription for improving its economic health.

The study cites obstacles the region faces in breaking away from its “Rust Belt” reputation. Ongoing restructuring in the manufacturing sector means regional unemployment is high overall, and many workers need new jobs, education, and skills. Brain drain is a continual problem, particularly from the once-strong industrial base. It asks the region’s states and the federal government to create a “common marketplace” for education and employment, allowing credit and credentialing as well as fully portable pension plans to allow workers more mobility throughout the region. It also calls for a Great Lakes compact focused on producing highly skilled graduates of K-16+ school systems with rigorous curriculums in science, technology, engineering and design, and math disciplines.

It also proposes a Great Lakes venture fund whereby state governors and other public and private sector leaders agree to dedicate a portion of state and private pension funds, university endowments, and foundation investments to growing new companies in the region.


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