Op-ed: 'Reinventing the Midwest'

UC President Neville Pinto shares importance of talent, innovation with Cincinnati Business Courier

UC President Neville Pinto shared a roadmap for transforming the Midwest in a guest column for the Cincinnati Business Courier on Feb. 7.

The university’s leader touched upon three areas of need:

  • Increase the flow of talent and innovation
  • Align our executive leaders
  • Build a robust export economy
We cannot miss the surging talent and innovation movement sweeping the globe, because it (and it alone) will define America’s standing in the 21st century.

President Neville Pinto

Reinventing the Midwest

By Neville Pinto

Donut or pie? Your personal choice is dictated by taste, but America’s must be driven by strategy.  

If America becomes a donut, with no major economic mass in the middle, we’ll lose our edge in the global marketplace. But if we reinvent the Midwest, making America a bigger and better pie in the process, we can secure our nation’s preeminence for generations.  

Let’s start by addressing three needs: Increase the flow of talent and innovation; align our executive leaders; and build a robust export economy.

Increase the flow of talent and innovation

Nearly every week I meet with CEOs. While each delivers a unique solution to the marketplace, it’s telling to see how many struggle with the same problem: A dearth of talent and innovation. How do we reverse this trend?  

For starters, we must graduate significantly more work-ready leaders at every level to enhance and expand the Midwest’s workforce. 

Second, we must keep more graduates from taking their talents elsewhere. If this means paying higher starting salaries, we should do so with the long view in mind. After all, making this investment on the front end will be far less expensive than relocating mature, out-of-region talent on the back end.  

Finally, we must attract more individuals to the Midwest. Part of this strategy involves recognizing how much talent resides beyond our national borders. Did you know half of all patents awarded by the US over the past decade have been to immigrants? 

Imagine if the Midwest became a destination for international talent headstrong on building their ideal futures here in the Heartland. Here I am reminded of David Brooks’s theory that America is at its best when viewed as a frontier and not a fortress.

In sum, the Midwest must be a magnet for talent and innovation. Research by the economist Enrico Moretti reveals that for a city that lands one new high-tech job, five additional jobs are ultimately created beyond that sector. That multiplier effect is a game changer for a city’s trajectory. 

The upshot for the Midwest is simple: We cannot miss the surging talent and innovation movement, because it (and it alone) will define America’s standing in the 21st century.

Align our executive leaders

In "The Coming Jobs War," Jim Clifton argues that America’s fate depends on the success of its cities. These metro areas will rise or fall based on the creativity and commitment of their executive leaders. His advice is straightforward: We must evolve from executive leaders with a title to super mentors with a purpose.  

Super mentors are highly accomplished leaders who are obsessed with helping other leaders get where they want to go. More than ever, the Midwest needs its super mentors to work together to nurture the conditions for growth and advancement—elements such as curiosity, creativity, openness, innovation, entrepreneurship and impact.  

Build a robust export economy

Today, the global middle class stands at roughly three billion consumers. Within a decade, that number will likely exceed five billion. Perhaps you’ve guessed China and India will lead this historic expansion.  

What may surprise you, though, is their dominating share of this growth. Experts estimate 90 percent of this surge will occur in Asia. If we convert this growth rate to spending projections, India’s middle-class will increase their spending by $8.8 trillion and China’s will rise by $10.1 trillion.  

What if we capture a mere sliver of this $19 trillion growth by exporting Midwest-made products and services to India and China? It could supercharge our region’s economy for decades. 

From Rust Belt to Evergreen

It’s time to retire the Rust Belt label. We must create a Midwest identity that’s evergreen—fresh, durable and self-renewing.

Will it be hard? Surely. But what story of transformation doesn’t start with tough odds? As the saying goes: If the road is easy, we’re likely headed the wrong way.

Importantly, these pathways are by no means exhaustive of what’s possible. If anything, they speak more to a mindset than a methodology. In short, it’s about pushing each other to dream in the same direction—and, in the process, to think in decidedly new and different ways.  

Neville Pinto is President of the University of Cincinnati.