Kildee to launch forums on industrial cities

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee is starting a congressional forum that aims to change the way that Congress and other policymakers think about cities, in particular America’s older industrial cities.

Kildee, co-chair of the Congressional Urban Caucus, says it’s past time for the United States to have a national strategy for reinvesting in American cities and towns that have had a tough time entering the new global economy.

Examples beyond Detroit and Flint include Youngstown, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; and Stockton, California.

Kildee is launching the series of forums in his role as the vice ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, hoping to spur his fellow lawmakers to act before these cities decline further.

“I’m trying to bring attention to the fact that a lot of cities are struggling, and that those struggles are holding back the American economy, and concentrating American poverty and a sorts of problems associated with that,” Kildee said.

“When it comes to America’s productivity, it is not in our national interest to have these older cities, a lot of whom were a really big part of growth in manufacturing, not fully contributing because they’ve been allowed to atrophy so much.”

The first forum is Wednesday in Washington, featuring California Rep. Maxine Waters, ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. Future forums are in the planning stages in other communities around the country, including Michigan.

The recent presidential election has sharpened the focus on how the industrial heartland is struggling financially, said Amy Liu, vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution.

The region was hit hard by manufacturing job losses and dislocated workers, animating many of the discussions around renegotiating global trade agreements now happening in Washington.

“The region was struggling enough that it created a demand for change from voters because not enough progress was made,” said Liu, who is participating in Wednesday’s forum.

She also noted a broader pushback against cities dubbed the urban-rural divide, the idea that, with all their economic distress, cities seem to get a disproportionate amount of attention and resources to the detriment of rural areas and smaller communities.

“I hope this conversation will make the case that smaller towns and smaller industrial areas actually face the same challenges and look at how do we lift up the prospects of both local communities in a way that creates a unified agenda for what we do for working places and working people,” Liu said.

For instance, both types of communities are struggling with high unemployment and loss of population, as local talent departs for seemingly better opportunities, she said.

“They are trying to find their economic foothold in the global economy. What is going to be the source of jobs in this more digital, globally competitive future? Both are struggling to figure that out,” Liu said.

“Whether it was agriculture before or coal before or manufacturing, the question is how do we survive?”

mburke@detroitnews.com

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