The Rust Belt

Once known as the industrial heartland of the U.S., the Northeast region along the Midwest and the Great Lakes, spanning up to New York and New Jersey in the East, is nowadays often referred to as Rust Belt, indicating the shrinkage of its once-powerful industrial sector, the ensuing economic decline and population loss. It’s name can be derived from the abandoned factories and urban decay that have marked the region since the 1970s.

The Rust Belt has no precise boundaries, as the term pertains to a set of economic and social conditions rather than to an overall geographical region of the U.S.

The extent to which a community may have been described as a “Rust Belt city” depends on how great a role industrial manufacturing played in its local economy in the past.

In the 20th century, local economies in the area specialized in large-scale manufacturing of finished medium to heavy industrial and consumer products, as well as the transportation and processing of the raw materials required for heavy industry. Back then, the area was referred to as the Manufacturing Belt, Factory Belt, or Steel Belt as distinct from the agricultural Midwestern states.


Bethlehem PA, Old Steel Mill


Buffalo NY, Old Grain Elevator

Cities like Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo are considered at the heart of the Rust Belt. They formed the great American manufacturing cities before World War II and served as a magnet for immigrants who provided the industrial facilities with inexpensive labor.

The region was hard hit by industrial decline since the mid-20th century due to a variety of economic factors, such as the transfer of manufacturing further West, increased automation, and the decline of the US steel and coal industries.


Cleveland, OH, Case Western


Milwaukee WI, Art Museum

Affected cities suffered several difficulties, including population loss, lack of education, declining tax revenues, high unemployment and crime. However, recent reports suggest that the Great Lakes region has a sizable potential for transformation, citing already existing global trade networks, clean energy/low carbon capacity, developed innovation infrastructure and higher educational network

New types of R&D-intensive nontraditional manufacturing have emerged recently in Rust Belt, such as biotechnology, the polymer industry, infotech, and nanotech. Infotech in particular creates a promising venue for the Rust Belt’s revitalization.

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