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The Industrial Heartland from 1969 to the Present

You may know this area by another name: the factory belt, the manufacturing belt, or, more memorably, the rust belt. However, the industrial Midwest and adjoining areas couldn’t be the rust belt without first having had a high proportion of manufacturing assets. Over many decades, this area we’re calling “the industrial heartland” was a highly productive region with a sustained economic interest in manufacturing. Long before the rust set in, entrepreneurs with capital and a desire to invest in US manufacturing sectors—primary and fabricated metals, electrical equipment, petroleum and coal products, and meat packing among them—invested their funds and set up their companies in this region.

The industrial heartland spans, from east to west, upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and then it continues up the shores of Lake Michigan into Michigan and Illinois before brushing the southeastern edges of Wisconsin. This region has been and, in many cases, continues to be reliant on manufacturing for its economic vitality. The landscape helps tell the story: Plumes of steam dissipating overhead, barges laden with coal or grain or oil chugging up river, steel ladders clinging to building exteriors, these reflections of the industrial heartland exist in the area’s yesterday and in its today, and they will likely exist into the foreseeable future.

In many ways, the Fourth Federal Reserve District, which comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia and is served by the Cleveland Fed, reflects the manufacturing history of the region. Several of the traditional employment sectors in the Fourth District, as in the industrial heartland overall, are manufacturing based and profit from the demographic and natural resources the area offers. In recent years, Fourth District employment has diversified beyond these sectors into healthcare, higher education, service-based trades, and others, yet the District’s employment share in manufacturing still exceeds that of the nation overall. What was true in 1969 remains true now: Manufacturing is a significant aspect of the industrial heartland and of the Fourth District’s economy.

Mark Schweitzer

The Cleveland Fed’s Mark Schweitzer elaborates on the economic performance over the past half-century of the industrial heartland. Read the Q&A.

The Cleveland Fed has produced many resources on the industrial heartland, manufacturing, and related topics. Here, you’ll find Rust and Renewal, three retrospectives on the Cleveland Fed’s largest metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. Each retrospective provides an overview of the MSA’s progress and struggles from 1969 to the present. You’ll also find links to related content, including “What’s Gone Wrong (and Right) in the Industrial Heartland?” “Manufacturing Employment Losses and the Economic Performance of the Industrial Heartland,” and Annual Report 1986: Common Bonds, Divergent Paths: An Economic Perspective of Four Cities.

And don’t miss the Q&A with Mark Schweitzer, a senior vice president in the Cleveland Fed’s Research Department and author of many of the pieces linked in these pages.

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