Education will make the Rust Belt great again

February 14, 2017
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Exterior of the Observer-Reporter building in Washington.

Along with being the ultimate swing state in presidential elections, Ohio is also the buckle of the Rust Belt, the swath of territory from somewhere around Buffalo, N.Y. to Milwaukee that has become synonymous with hard times and industrial decay. It includes the Pittsburgh region, too.

When the rest of the country ponders the Rust Belt, they almost invariably think of places like Flint, Mich., or Gary, Ind., or, yes, smaller towns like Donora or Steubenville, Ohio – locales where the smoke once “ran like water,” to borrow the title of a book on air pollution, but are now marked by deteriorating factories, emptied downtowns, and young people fleeing to warmer spots with growing job markets like Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C., or Phoenix.

It’s the accumulated woes of these areas that led many Rust Belt voters to roll the dice on Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election and his promises of protectionism and reborn industry, delivering Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to his column.

A little more than 30 years after the “Rust Belt” label was born, Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he’s tired of it.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that Kasich would like to “change the image of Ohio into something from the Rust Belt to the Knowledge Belt.” The Republican also ackowledged that “this is hard.”

Kasich is correct on that count. He should also grab a number and get in line. Surely all of the other governors who preside over states in the, yes, Rust Belt, would like to shed that designation, too. That’s why we see them touting their “high-tech corridors” and the jobs they have available in areas like robotics and biotechnology. We’re not holding our breath that the Rust Belt label is going to be sloughed off anytime soon.

But Kasich is on the right track. Rather than making extravagant and unrealistic promises that long-gone industries can be brought back and good-paying jobs will again be available to anyone who can stand on an assembly line or swing a pick ax, the Ohio governor is emphasizing that training and education is the way to get the Buckeye State and its Rust Belt kin on the path to prosperity.

Among the ideas being explored by our neighbor to the west is offering high school credit for career exploration and further credits being offered for work experience and internships.

Kasich also supports using local libraries as “hubs for adult learners to take online courses and gain new skills,” as he wrote in an essay for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

“I am convinced that it’s all about education and workforce training,” Kasich said. “These are the keys to unlocking the future and they are essential elements in today’s economy to ensuring people don’t fall behind when technology forces profound changes for industries and their workforce needs in our state.”

In the end, it will be education and training that make places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and, indeed, all of America, great again, and not empty bluster, meaningless slogans and protectionism.

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