In 1859 Charles Dickens published his seminal novel, A Tale of Two Cities. This great novel described the appalling conditions before and during the French revolution. At its core, the French revolution was an attempt to address the extreme inequalities of 18th Century France under the ruling monarchy.
In 1984 the late New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, captivated the Democratic National Convention, with his powerful rebuttal of President Reagan’s 1980 “Shining City on a Hill” speech. With stunning eloquence, Cuomo described a nation divided by extreme conditions of wealth – and inequality. This inequality, Cuomo suggested, was rooted in our nation’s industrial decline and found expression within the social ills which followed.
The 21st Century combines elements of what we observed in the 1780s and the 1980s. However, today, it is just a little more complicated. For many, we are now living in the fourth industrial age. Today, we are witnessing the continued decline of some of our older cities and the renewal of others. We are also simultaneously witnessing the emergence of new dynamic cities. These cities are typically located within regions removed from our nation’s industrial past. The story of these cities – both good and bad – also provides an instructive lesson on how municipalities can best prepare their present and future workforce around sectors that will drive their long-term success.
Last year, I visited two such cities: Cleveland and Charlotte.
Cleveland is an iconic “Rust Belt” city—often portrayed as a once-mighty city now in terminal decline—whereas Charlotte is an icon of the “New South”—typically held out as an example of robust urban growth and success—and yet a comparison is useful in understanding the impact of workforce development on economic success.