In the late 1970’s, the decline of the heavy manufacturing industry meant impending ruin for former giants like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit. The “Rust Belt” was facing deprecation at the hands of increasingly popular foreign imports and the growing prowess of the American South. Consequently, the region was plagued with depopulation and de-industrialization for half of a century. As some would argue, the Rust Belt really started to suffer in the 1950’s; weak competition and a stranglehold on the market provided little incentive to innovate, leading to decades of staid, uninspiring decay.
Now, the new 21st century Rust Belt is returning from its fall from grace through the next wave of innovation; a cultural, technological, and economic renaissance. There’s Cleveland, heralded for its recent cultural revolution lead by the influx of young talented chefs and artists, Pittsburgh, a hub for computer and life sciences and the home of the 2009 G20 summit, Detroit, facing a job recovery after coming back from the brink of bankruptcy in 2013, and Buffalo,, which has seen unprecedented innovation in hardware, manufacturing, and the life sciences, along with substantive investments in the waterfront area.
Spurred on by local investors, a ripe housing market, and a robust higher educational network (the region can claim UB, University of Rochester, RIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Case Western Reserve), the Rust Belt is beginning to blossom, and the startup ecosystems in each respective city are reaping the benefits. The region is home to more and more venture capital arms each year, and while the belt can’t come close to rivaling the east and west coast, it likely doesn’t have to. Post-industrial entrepreneurs are excelling in areas outside the expertise of typical SaaS investors and exploring innovative new technologies in hardware, biotechnology, clean energy, and manufacturing－many of the same areas that once put cities like Detroit on the map.
Ultimately, it’s these innovations that will continue the cultural and economic revelation of America’s post-industrial cities. The renaissance, undoubtedly, will be good for the enduring citizens of the belt, the country, and, hopefully, investors.