How about some Great Lakes pride?

Yesterday I talked about how California gets lots of attention in the national media – and certainly from itself. Much of this attention is based on its sheer scale. It is a very big state – geographically, population, economy, etc.

But I think it’s time the Great Lakes region got some attention.

You see, I’ve lived in the Great Lakes area all my life – Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. Many of my family and friends are still concentrated in this region. But I can tell you, I’ve been around the national media enough and read/seen enough of it to know that it really is considered “fly-over country”. In other words, it’s the place that people from the coasts merely pass over as they go about their Important Business. We’re just the Rust Belt. At best, we’re the Heartland, whatever that means.

Well, it’s time for some regional pride. I’ll turn to some statistics for help.

I’ve used what I believe is a conservative estimate of the Great Lakes region: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. I think those states are the most closely linked geographically, economically, and culturally. (The Census Bureau sees it this way, too.)

Let’s look at the numbers. Very much thanks primarily to the Northeast Midwest Institute website, by the way.

In terms of population:

The Great Lakes region 46,277,000
California 36,458,000

In terms of land area (square miles):

The Great Lakes region 301,479
California 163,707

In terms of Gross Domestic Product (millions of current $):

The Great Lakes region 1,908,048
California 1,727,355

That’s right. The Great Lakes region exceeds California in population and economic impact. But, you might argue, the Great Lakes region is so much bigger geographically. True. Okay, let’s add in Oregon and Washington for the entire West Coast, a natural division in my opinion (and again, the Census Bureau agrees):


The Great Lakes region 46,277,000
The West Coast 46,554,000

Land area (square miles):

The Great Lakes region 301,479
The West Coast 333,396

Gross State Product (millions of current $):

The Great Lakes region 1,908,048
The West Coast 2,172,187

That’s right. Even when the entire West Coast is included, the Great Lakes region still accounts for nearly the same number of people and close to the same size economy (88%), and that’s with fewer square miles (90%). Remember, too, that this is a narrow definition of the Great Lakes region. It could easily include, to my mind, Minnesota, western Pennsylvania, and western New York. Heck, throw in the Canadian province of Ontario if you want to.

It’s an accident of history that the states in the eastern half of the country are relatively small. Together, they have an enormous amount of impact. I think the Great Lakes states should work together to make sure that impact is understood and used for the benefit of its citizens and the country.

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