Economy

Minneapolis, Urban Growth Doesn't Need To Depend On Tech

The city in the U.S. midwest has found a different way to make it in the modern economy.

Even as other Midwestern cities lose population, the Twin Cities keep growing
Even as other Midwestern cities lose population, the Twin Cities keep growing
Noah Smith

There's a standard playbook for reviving cities by turning them into technology clusters. But not every town can become the next Silicon Valley, or Robot City, or biotech mecca.

Minneapolis has shown that there is another way.

Cities such as Raleigh, San Diego and Pittsburgh have all followed a similar model: Build around a top-ranked research university; bring together elites from government, business, and academia; facilitate the sharing of ideas among campus labs, startups, and big companies; provide high-quality infrastructure and a pleasant, fun environment for smart young people. The basic idea comes from the example of Austin, Texas, and from AnnaLee Saxenian's "Regional Advantage," which attempts to explain the history of Silicon Valley. It also draws on urbanist Richard Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class."

But the country — and the world — can have only so many technology clusters. That's what it means for industries to cluster rather than spread out. So where does that leave the rest of the country's urban centers? Are they doomed to fade into obscurity, as old-line manufacturing is steadily replaced by high-tech industries concentrated in a few super-cities?

That would be a bad outcome. But, fortunately, some cities have succeeded in the modern economy without being tech hubs or following anything like the standard game plan. One of these is Minneapolis-St. Paul, the urban agglomeration known as the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis has shown that there is another way — Photo: Sharon Mollerus

Even as other Midwestern cities lose population, the Twin Cities keep growing. In terms of per capita income, Minneapolis-St. Paul has bested all of its Midwestern competitors and the area's unemployment is also extremely low.

Like other success stories, especially in the Midwest, the Twin Cities' achievements shouldn't be overstated. It has problems with racial segregation and income gaps. It has crime — lots of robberies and around half as many shootings per capita as notoriously violent cities such as Baltimore and Chicago. Its high average income also masks considerable inequality — the area still does well in terms of median household income, but no better than a number of other Midwestern cities.

Overall, though, Minneapolis and St. Paul's strong economic performance has made them the envy of the region. The Twin Cities' economy is highly diversified — corporations headquartered in the region include retail chains, energy companies, food brands, industrial manufacturers, and more. Essentially, the Twin Cities look like a miniature version of New York City. They do a little bit of everything.

How did they pull this off? The area's tech industry is doing fine, but it's hardly the next Silicon Valley. Minnesota is a high-tax state rather than a libertarian paradise. The Twin Cities don't have particularly nice weather.

Carlson School of Management professor Myles Shaver has a theory. He believes that Minneapolis (and by extension, St. Paul) has created another type of cluster — a cluster of skilled business managers:

Shaver's theory… is that Minneapolis is so successful at turning medium-size companies into giants because its most important resource never leaves the city: educated managers of every level, who can work at just about any company. Shaver found that of the 25 largest American cities, only one had a lower rate of outflow of high-earning college-educated workers than Minneapolis.

Minneapolis and St. Paul's strong economic performance has made them the envy of the region — Photo: Mac H

That raises the question of why managers love Minnesota. Affordability has got to be one factor: Minnesota regularly ranks high on lists that measure income relative to the local cost of living. As any San Francisco resident knows, it's a rare treat to live in a place where your salary doesn't get eaten up by rent. The towns are also good at attracting skilled immigrants — around half of foreign-born folks working in the Twin Cities hold white-collar jobs. And some note Minnesota's 1971 tax reform, which shared tax revenues between schools and neighborhoods.

But the most powerful force may simply be the Twin Cities' business cluster itself. Businesses want to locate their offices in cities where there are lots of highly qualified managers — if they need to make a hire, they can do it locally instead of conducting a national search. And managers want to be in cities where there are lots of business offices — if they need to find a new job, they don't have to relocate their families. This latter consideration is especially important for modern dual-income couples, of which Minnesota has many.

So Shaver's theory might not need any other explanation. Any city with a decent quality of life, once it begins to attract a critical mass of both managers and offices, may simply become a self-sustaining managerial cluster. The Twin Cities' success shows that other Midwestern cities can succeed without being the next hot startup hub. There's no magic formula for becoming a business town, but maybe that's good news.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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