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The State of the Heartland Factbook 2018

October 26, 2018
This report is intended to help Heartland leaders and citizens get on the same page about the region's current condition and its trajectory at a crucial time.

Two years after a national election that experts say pitted the “American Heartland” against the rest of the nation, pinning the region down has only gotten trickier.

In fact, the proliferation of “red vs. blue” maps and apocalyptic talkshow punditry has if anything made it harder for the region to get a clear sense of itself and how it is doing.

Instead, the national debate purveys conflicting, distorted images that often portray the region either as a vast “flyover” interior where jobs have disappeared and anger is pervasive, or else as an idyllic expanse of wheat fields, reviving factories, and mid-sized cities filled with startups.

To be sure, some of the social media “hot takes” and journalistic quick hits have their truth, and even their use. But what Heartland changemakers really need now is a more clarifying look at the region. Such a chronicle—by the numbers, with an agreed-upon geography— might actually help in promoting understanding and bringing the conversation home.

Which is the point of this factbook: Prepared to support the Walton Family Foundation’s inaugural Heartland Summit, the State of the Heartland: Factbook 2018 is intended to help Heartland leaders and citizens get on the same page about the region’s current condition and its trajectory at a crucial time.

To that end, this factbook adopts a new state-based definition of the region developed by the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) and then provides a series of 26 socioeconomic measures focused on how the defined region’s economy has been performing since the recent financial crisis. The geography employed consists of 19 inland states. The indicators, meanwhile, presume the fundamental importance of economic vitality to regional, social, and cultural health. As such, the factbook’s indicators first cover nine aspects of the region’s topline outcomes in the search for growth, prosperity, and inclusion. After that, 17 indicators are used to benchmark the region’s standing on four sorts of drivers of strong outcomes.
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