By Alan Berube, Senior Fellow and Research Director, Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program
I was really pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the Dallas Regional Chamber on June 7 regarding the region’s position and potential in the global economy. My presentation, which focused on global engagement as a driver of the Dallas’ economic growth, sparked a terrific discussion around issues such as infrastructure, education, trade barriers, and how the rest of the world perceives North Texas (including that Texas’ pop culture center of gravity may have shifted from Dallas to Odessa).
The presentation generated a slew of questions from the audience, not all of which I was able to respond to during our limited time at the luncheon. So I’ve pulled a few of those questions into this post in an effort to keep the conversation going.
Your presentation addresses the need for more and better jobs. But job growth has predominantly been in low-skilled and high-skilled positions. How do we generate more “middle-skilled” job opportunities?
There has indeed been a lot of research documenting the decline of so-called middle-skill jobs, especially in manufacturing and clerical occupations, where technology can replace routine workers. Yet other research finds that, in fact, just under half the American workforce remains employed in middle-skill jobs, and that demand for workers in occupations such as technicians and licensed practical nurses remains robust. The retirement of the Baby Boomers will further add to demand for middle-skill workers in the coming two decades. And as detailed in my presentation, trade-related industries like advanced manufacturing, logistics, and the “clean economy” provide above-average pay and benefits to workers with less than a bachelor’s degree.
The risk here, then, is less a lack of demand for middle-skilled workers than a supply shortage. Only 22 percent of the Dallas metro area’s adults have a “middle-skill” educational profile (that is, not a four-year degree but at least one year of college or an associate’s degree), ranking it just 53rd among the 100 largest metro areas. Approaches like career academies that provide multiple pathways for young adults into the workforce, and close involvement between employers and institutions like the Dallas Community College District, can ensure that the region has the skills needed to retain and grow industries critical to global competitiveness.
You talked about the “clean economy,” but Texas has lots of shale gas to export, and cheaper fuel. Isn’t that good for manufacturing?
In many parts of the country today, there are signs of a manufacturing revival tied to the shale gas boom. Makers of ethylene in states like Louisiana and Texas that use natural gas as an input are booming. And manufacturers of drilling supplies and pipelines throughout the Midwest are benefiting, too. Opinions differ as to what the eventual impact might be on manufacturing employment in the United States.
I agree that the gas boom offers a meaningful opportunity for domestic manufacturing growth. However, nascent efforts to export natural gas could cut against that opportunity. As my colleague Mark Muro points out, the gas boom can help the United States move toward higher-value production and export activities, if increases in the fuel supply provide a lower-cost input to industrial production and a cleaner substitute for coal and oil. We are still in the early stages of the gas boom, and states like Texas are in a prime position to exploit the boom for competitive advantage in high-value industries, rather than act too quickly to export vast quantities of the fuel.
Which cities are doing a particularly good job at providing resources and capital to promote export growth?
A great question, since it gives me the opportunity to highlight Brookings’ work! In the past year, we worked closely with leaders in four U.S. metro areas—Los Angeles, Portland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Syracuse—to craft strategies to boost metropolitan exports by better coordinating goals, programs, and investments. Importantly, each metro export plan begins from a market assessment that identifies key assets and opportunities for growth. It then lays out specific initiatives that the region can pursue to boost its export capacity, performance metrics to chart progress, and supporting policies at the federal levels that would complement the region’s own actions. In that same vein, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, under Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s leadership, launched an “Export Ready” challenge last year to encourage cities to work toward doubling their exports by 2014. These efforts recognize that local leadership is critical for increasing the export potential of local businesses and their suppliers.
Dallas has an important foothold in the global economy by virtue of its sheer size, its role in international trade, and its diverse population. The Regional Chamber’s engagement on these issues can help raise the metro area’s international profile and its productive connections to rapidly urbanizing markets around the globe.
Click here to watch Alan’s talk in whole.