Closing regional economic divides can support democracies on both sides of the Atlantic
This February, the European Commission released its Eighth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion, detailing the impact and future challenges of the European Union’s decades-old program to invest in economically ailing regions within member countries. Overshadowed by Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, the report was barely noticed in Europe, and certainly unnoticed in the U.S.
A commitment to place-focused economic policies that close economic opportunity divides between various geographies and help hold societies together has a long history in Europe. For years, such “cohesion” policies have invested in economically struggling or transitioning regions in the United Kingdom and EU member nations. And while the track record of these investments is mixed, they have somewhat buffered the winds of globalization, automation, and increased skill demands that have hurt workers in traditional industries around the globe.
John C. Austin
Nonresident Senior Fellow – Brookings Metro
While structural changes in the economy—and, in particular, the devastating impact of the 2008 Great Recession—have resulted in persistent and sometimes widening regional economic inequities, the EU’s latest report says that in sum, “Over the past two decades, cohesion policy has reduced economic, social, and territorial disparities.” The noble goal of these policies, despite the economic headwinds, is to try to realize a more equitable spread of economic opportunity—a glue to bind societies together.
We’ve written much about the urgent need in the U.S. to diminish geographic economic disparities and opportunity gaps, particularly those between thriving global city regions and struggling communities in the industrial Midwest. Such yawning divides and still-growing gaps in geographic economic opportunity pose one of the most imminent challenges to the stability of the political order on both sides of the Atlantic.
This instability and polarized politics are driven by populist leaders who prey on economic anxieties and the fears of social change and loss of identity among residents of economically struggling communities. Right-wing populists appeal to anti-immigrant sentiments, ethno-nationalism, nostalgia for an economy and society of yesteryear, and a retreat from the international order into isolationism. They also are anti-democratic and encourage distrust in government institutions, the free press, and even the rule of law.
Vulnerable regions around the world are in a difficult phase of economic restructuring, and they are the crucible of today’s polarizing right-wing populist movements. Former heartland industrial powerhouses—from the once-mighty U.S. Midwest to the Donbas in warring Ukraine’s east—represent the most fertile ground for authoritarian strongmen to nurture nativism, nationalism, and nostalgia.
On the other hand, when the economic fortunes of once-mighty industrial heartland regions take a turn for the better, we see salutary effects on the health of democracy. This includes a measurable decline in the electoral appeal of populism and nationalism—disabling the resentment-driven, nostalgic politics that anti-democratic demagogues peddle. We have seen this phenomenon clearly in the U.S. Midwest, as well as industrial heartland regions in Europe. Economically rebounding cities and subregions within otherwise struggling industrial areas have been able to resist the populist tide and, in many instances, even reverse gains populist parties have made in previous elections.
In contrast to Europe, the U.S. has little history of region-focused federal investment efforts, with the exception of big plays for the most economically backward regions, such as through the Tennessee Valley Authority and Appalachian Regional Commission. But rarely have these efforts been viewed as having the goal of national political or social cohesion.
Now may be the time for the U.S. to more fully articulate its own “cohesion” policy and agenda. Just as in Europe, the Great Recession hit the U.S. industrial heartland hard and exacerbated regional disparities. Automation, agglomeration in global city regions, and tech-driven occupational changes pushed these disparities further, right up to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arguably, the Biden administration has been trying to advance a place-focused agenda, albeit without the accompanying clear narrative about the social goals of cohesion. While numerous proposals for place-focused investments have been left on the cutting room floor of the unpassed Build Back Better Act, some significant pieces remain in the works.
Versions of the “innovation hubs” that colleagues at Brookings Metro first proposed to spread tech innovation and seed good job growth in the heartland remain in national innovation and competitiveness legislation being reconciled in Congress. Some form of a new federal block grant program to bring good, new jobs to the country’s distressed communities may yet clear the Congress, which, as we noted previously, would be another potential balm on our polarized politics. And as colleagues at the Upjohn Institute detail in a recent report, there are promising uses of funds for place-focused investments in the previously passed—but not yet fully spent—American Rescue Plan Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
We may be finally seeing a glimmer of growth in the heartland tech economy, and we can’t afford to ignore it—if for no other reason than the differential impact these regions have on the future of our politics.
Today we are seeing a great convergence of effort—here in the U.S., in the U.K. with the “leveling up” agenda of the Johnson administration, and in Europe with its cohesion policy—to shape effective place-based economic development and a support strategy for “left behind” regions. These agendas have as much to do with politics as economics, as a mechanism to take down the temperature of overheated partisan politics.
Cohesion policies can follow important lines to drive regional growth in any country, from seeding innovation and support for entrepreneurs to providing universal broadband access, investments in skills, environmental protection, and clean energy. But it’s about more than policy—it’s about leaders “seeing” and respecting the residents of struggling industrial heartland regions. Not talking down to them, but recognizing their legitimate needs, frustrations, and priorities—then, delivering the support they need to chart their own future.
In Europe, they call this “managing economic structural change.” In the U.S., we call it “place-based economic development.” While the EU talks about “smart specialization” and “just transitions,” we talk about innovation in emerging sectors and inclusive growth. No matter what you call it, the success of our collective trans-Atlantic work to accelerate economic change in industrial heartland regions has huge implications for the future of our society, our democracies, and the health of our alliances.
Rain garden provides beautiful, environmentally friendly solution
May flowers are in full bloom as April showers proved to be no challenge for theater-goers at the Wyoming County Cultural Center’s Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock, PA, thanks to the newly installed rain garden. The rain garden, funded by the Atlantic Sunrise Community Grant Program, provides a place to hold and divert all runoff from the roof as a result of the heavy rains and melting snow.
“Our parking lost has been much safer as a result and the space looks beautiful,” said Erica Rogler, executive director at the Wyoming County Cultural Center.
The sign posted by the Community Rain Garden – listing Williams as the sponsor – outlines the purpose of a rain garden, what types of plants are best to use in a rain garden, the benefit the rain garden provides to the environment, and steps everyone can take to prevent pollution of storm drains.
Rain garden sign
The Atlantic Sunrise Community Grant Program is just one of the ways Williams actively engages in its core value to act as a good neighbor through involvement and support for community activities.
Check out a recent story about the garden in the Abington Journal.
In the event of an emergency involving a Williams asset, please contact call: 855-945-5762
Riparian Area Impact Assessment and Restoration Plan Atlantic Sunrise Project Lancaster County
1000891.0009.02.21-B4666 Riparian Area Impact Assessment and Restoration lan Atlantic Sunrise roject Lancaster County July 2017 repared for: TRANSCONTINENTAL GAS IE LINE COMANY, LLC repared by: ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT, INC. 368 leasant View Drive Lancaster, New York 14086
B Tree and Shrub lanting List 02:1000891.0009.02.21-B4666 B-1 R_Lancaster Riparian Buffer Impact Asssessment.docx-04/21/17
Red maple Acer rubrum TREES Flood Tolerance Height(ft) Shade Tolerance tolerant 75-100 tolerant Wildlife Value young shoots *Silver maple A. saccharinum W tolerant 75-100 intermediate young Sugar maple A. saccharum R, A FACU- intolerant 75-100 very tolerant Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea/laevis/ canadensis – tolerant 20-40 intermediate food source-fruit, and leaves awpaw Asimina triloba U+ intolerant 20-35 tolerant food source-fruit and leaves; host plant for zebra swallowtail **Yellow birch Betula alleghaniensis intolerant 60-100 intermediate food source-seeds, young and shoots and catkins Black (Sweet) birch B. lenta R, A FACU intolerant 50-75 intermediate food source-catkins, buds, seeds, leaves and River birch B. nigra, R FACW tolerant 40-70 intolerant food source-seeds, buds, young and foliage *American hornbeam Carpinus caroliniana intolerant 35-50 very tolerant food source-catkins, buds, seeds, leaves and **Bitternut hickory Carya cordiformis U+ – intermediate 75-100 intolerant bitter nuts not favored as much as other hickories **Shagbark hickory C. ovata U- intolerant 75-100 intermediate food source- and nuts *Redbud Cercis canadensis, R FACU- intolerant 20-35 tolerant food source-seeds, foliage and flower pollen for honeybees Hackberry Celtis occidentalis, R FACU ; shelter and nesting sites **ersimmon Diospyros virginiana FAC- intermediate 50-75 tolerant food source-fruits, and nectar American beech, Fagus grandifolia U very intolerant 75-100 very tolerant food source-nuts Honey-locust Gleditsia triacanthos R, A FAC- intermediate 50-75 intolerant pods **Kentucky coffee- tree Gymnocladus dioica A FACU- intermediate 75-100 intolerant low appeal to wildlife
Black walnut Juglans nigra, R FACU TREES Flood Tolerance Height(ft) Shade Tolerance Wildlife Value intermediate 75-100 intolerant food source- and nuts Tuliptree/poplar Liriodendron tulipifera U food source-nectar and seeds Black-gum Nyssa sylvatica 6.0 intermediate 50-75 intolerant food source-fruits, and nectar * **Hop-hornbeam Ostrya virginiana, R FACU- very intolerant 35-50 very tolerant food source-buds, catkins and seeds Eastern white pine inus strobus U intolerant 75-100 intermediate high value food sourceneedles and seeds; used for cover Sycamore latanus occidentalis W- moderate value for cover and nesting; food sourcefruits Eastern cottonwood opulus deltoides, A FAC – tolerant 75-100 intolerant food source-bark,, leaves and buds Large-toothed aspen. grandidentata – intolerant 50-75 very intolerant food source- bark,, leaves, catkins and buds Wild black cherry runus serotina U very intolerant 50-75 intolerant high value food sourcefruits, and nectar White oak Quercus alba U- intolerant 75-100 intermediate high value food sourceacorns and Swamp white oak Q. bicolor **Chestnut oak Q. montana, R FACW+, R UL tolerant 75-100 intermediate intolerant 50-75 intermediate food source-acorns and food source-acorns and in oak Q. palustris W tolerant 50-75 intolerant food source-acorns and Northern red oak Q. rubra U- medium value for nesting and food source-acorns *Black willow Salix nigra W+ very tolerant 35-50 very intolerant food source-buds, fruit, and Sassafras Sassafras albidum U- very intolerant 35-50 intolerant food source- and fruits American basswood Tilia americana U intolerant 75-100 tolerant food source-, seeds and nectar **Red (Slippery) elm Ulmus rubra tolerant 50-80 intermediate
**Smooth alder Alnus serrulata, R, A OBL SMALL TREES/SHRUBS Shade Flood Tolerance Height(ft) Wildlife Value Tolerance very tolerant 12-20 very intolerant food source-fruit Red chokeberry hotinia (Aronia) arbutifolia W very tolerant 6-12 intermediate very low wildlife value Black chokeberry. melanocarpa – very tolerant 3-6 intermediate Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis, R, A OBL 8.5 very tolerant 6-12 very intolerant food source-fruit Summersweet Clethra alnifolia FAC+ very tolerant 6-12 tolerant Silky dogwood Cornus amomum W very tolerant 6-12 intolerant food source-fruits Gray dogwood C. racemosa – intermediate 6-12 tolerant food source-fruits; cover Red-osier dogwood C. sericea W+ 8.5 very tolerant 6-12 intermediate food source-fruits, buds, and **Amer. hazelnut Corylus americana U- intolerant 6-12 tolerant food source-nuts (higher nutritional value than acorns and beechnuts) Witchhazel Hamamelis virginiana – 6.0 intolerant 20-35 very tolerant leaves toxic to some animals Winterberry Ilex verticillata W+ very tolerant 6-15 intermediate intermediate wildlife value **Mountain laurel Kalmia latifolia U 5.5 intolerant 12-20 very tolerant high value as food esp. for winter browse for Common spicebush Lindera benzoin W- 6.0 intermediate 6-12 very tolerant high value as food source fruits and leaves; host plant for spicebush swallowtail butterfly Northern bayberry Morella (Myrica) pensylvanica, R FAC very tolerant 6-12 intolerant food source-fruits **Ninebark hysocarpus opulifolius W- very tolerant 6-12 intolerant food source-fruit **Rosebay rhododendron Rhododendron maximum 5.5 tolerant 20-35 intolerant food source-buds and (winter browse) **Swamp azalea R. viscosum OBL very tolerant 6-12 intermediate food source-nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies Staghorn sumac Rhus typhina, R, A None intolerant 35-50 intermediate food source-fruit **Swamp rose Rosa palustris, R, A OBL very tolerant 4-10 intolerant food source-fruit *ussy willow Salix discolor W very tolerant 20-35 very intolerant high value as food source Sandbar willow Salix exigua (interior), R, A OBL 8.5 very tolerant 15-20 very intolerant