One-industry towns in the United States are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Detroit and Pittsburgh once known as the Motor City and Steel City respectively are two key examples of this trend. In their prime both cities were the country’s vital hubs for their primary industry; however in their responses to these industries’ lessened significance the two couldn’t be more different.
While Detroit languishes amid high crime high poverty and low employment Pittsburgh has been reborn as a center for biotechnology higher education and culture with low crime and a better-than-average job market. In fact Pittsburgh has transformed itself so successfully that both Forbes and Yahoo! named it the most livable city in the U.S. for 2010.
Metro Washington’s leaders would do well to take note of the divergence between these two Midwestern cities. While by no means a one-industry town D.C. and its suburbs are highly dominated by the federal government and the industries and services necessary for its functioning. The steady presence of the federal government has shielded this area from the worst effects of the Great Recession but as the examples of Detroit and Pittsburgh indicate over-reliance on any one employment source can be problematic should that source begin to shrink and/or cut back on investments and expenditures.
As an article in today’s Post explains our region may have to come to grips with such a reality in the near future. As concerns about spending and the deficit continue to dominate Washington political discussion federal government austerity could strike a significant blow to the as-of-yet relatively unscathed D.C. economy.