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Industrial restructuring, plant closure and public policy: 10 dying US industries

Firm death, plant closure and the geography of industry decline are all topics that may not be perceived as very interesting in some fields of academic inquiry. I have conducted empirical, on-the-ground research on how leather tanneries and footwear manufacturers deal with changes in their macroeconomic environment, shifts in consumer preferences and technological change, as well as rezoning and land use policies, and stricter environmental regulation.

Synchronous motor for reactive power compensation

Photo credit: LHOON on Flickr

Economic geography and public policy intersect at several stages. One of the most important, and often forgotten, is the design of policy options that counter negative societal impacts of industrial decline. I recently came across an article (thanks to Derek K. Miller for sharing it) on 10 dying US industries. I’ve been puzzled about the geography of plant closure for a solid decade now.

In the NPR article list, technological change is seen as the culprit of some of the listed industries’ decline. But there is really very little analytical work. Even in the actual report. I will admit I was minorly surprised to see that the report on which the NPR article is based lists ZERO academic references to any of the scholarly work that abounds on US industry decline. Not even citations or links to the more recent work published by Richard Florida (who is looking now at new types of non-traditional industry). This report gives me ‘a teachable moment’ – in my teaching, I demand from my students to cite scholarly work and not only journalistic accounts (which can be valuable). Moreover, when looking at public policy issues, they have to explore them for a multiplicity of disciplinary views and perspectives.

One of the groups in my Public Policy class is exploring the issue of industrial restructuring, plant decline and public policy. I am really looking forward to seeing what policy options they came up with. More importantly, because the often forgotten reality about scholarly research on the geography of industrial decline is that we may be able to learn from industry failure to strengthen other industries or change strategies and build better public policies for regional economic development.

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