Monday, December 12, 2005

The De-Industrialization of Suburbia

The De-Industrialization of Suburbia

The news that DaimlerChrysler will invest $1 billion at the Fenton plants (and get a significant tax break in return), contrasted with the continuing rumors of Ford closing down in Hazelwood, reminds us just how tenuous is the remaining heavy industry in U.S. urban areas.

Major industry largely abandoned central cities decades ago in favor of cheaper land and lower taxes in the suburbs. But now, with labor being so much cheaper in the Southern U.S. where labor unions are weak or non-existent, but especially in the developing world (where environmental regulations are also considerably weaker), it makes sense from an (overpaid) CEO's point-of-view to move to those places.

So, munis like Hazelwood and Fenton - once quite flush with the $$$ generated by their major industrial operations - struggle to retain the factories they have. And they try to supplement their revenues (and employment base) with (ugly) mega-retail centers like St. Louis Mills and Gravois Bluffs.

Those big factories, of course, used to be located in places like Forest Park Parkway at Sarah (in the case of Ford) in the City of St. Louis. While some major industry - most notably, locally-owned firms like Anheuser-Busch and Mallinckrodt - still has city operations, the scale of industrial abandonment over the past 50 years arguably rivals the scale of residential abandonment. Think about all the buildings that are vastly under-utilized in the North Broadway industrial area.

Now, and for the past 20+ years really, the suburbs are feeling the impacts of such de-industrialization. Which begs the question: what kind of jobs will remain that provide an income sufficient to pay for and maintain a four-bedroom, two-car garage vinyl-sided box?

Banking and financial services, maybe? There's been plenty of cuts there, too. Medical care? Except for MDs and RNs, most of those jobs - LPNs, CNAs, etc. - pay considerably less than union manufacturing jobs; and only a little more than retail/restaurant jobs. And the highly-paid jobs do require some college education.

I don't have good answers to these questions - but in terms of industrial decline, the suburbs of the Midwest and Northeast are starting to resemble more and more their nearby central cities.

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