Conventional wisdom suggests that to peer into the crystal ball of America’s future, one should go to Silicon Valley to check out the latest start-up unicorns, or to New York or Los Angeles to scout emerging trends in fashion and food.
Middle America, on the other hand, is often described as if it’s on the margins of culture and innovation — “flyover country” — provincial, unsophisticated and stuck in the past. But Middle America is diverse and although it is not stuck in the past —rhetoric about it is.
In this culture forecast report, we spotlight the region, looking at it not through the lens of politics, ideology or outdated clichés, but rather through innovation. Key cities from Cleveland to Nashville to Louisville are reinventing themselves by embracing innovation in manufacturing, city design, healthcare, sustainability efforts and clean energy, creatively solving problems that the entire country will eventually have to confront. And they’re imbuing this reinvention with characteristic Middle American values of community, collaboration, and concern for the social impact of their actions.
Yes, portions of Middle America may have a lot of cornfields — but drone-farming is happening there. Although Nashville is still the seat of the Grand Ole Opry, it’s also emerging as a major fashion and design hub. And in Appalachia, a coal museum is powered by solar energy and out-of-work coal miners are reinventing themselves as coders. It’s even predicted that in five years, the Midwest will have more startups than Silicon Valley.
Although it’s easy to politicize and divide America, innovation is not about moving right or left. Innovation is about moving forward.
Methodology: For this report, sparks & honey conducted primary research with our core cultural intelligence system, Q. We combed through thousands of cultural signals, and interviewed experts in the fields of technology, urbanism, healthcare, government and collaborative economies, including thought leaders from our Advisory Board and other industry experts. We surveyed 1,056 adults (18+) from across the US for their perspectives on innovation in the country.