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South stands in way of Rust Belt jobs revival

In the years since the 2008 financial crisis, this southern U.S. port city has attracted a new Airbus factory, seen its steel industry retool, and gained thousands of jobs building the Navy’s new combat vessel.

Some 300 miles north in Huntsville, new businesses sprout in farm fields drawn by readily available land, low taxes, flexible labor rules and improving infrastructure.

As President Trump faces pressure to deliver on his promise to revive manufacturing in the northern “rust belt” states that put him in the White House, his biggest challenge may not be Mexico or China, but the southern U.S. states that form the other pillar of his political base.

States like Alabama have built a presence in the global supply chain in direct competition with the country’s Midwestern industrial heartland, and even if Trump coaxes jobs back to the United States they may well head south rather than north.

Whether the “rust belt’s” expectations are met will be central to 2018 U.S. mid-term elections and likely frame the presidential race in 2020.

The southern states are reliably Republican, but the party’s ability to repeat its success in Midwestern swing states, such as Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, may hinge on whether the Trump administration delivers on its economic promises.

For a decade now, nine southern states – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas – together have accounted for a larger share of the U.S. economy than nine northern states that defined America as the 20th century’s industrial superpower, according to a Reuters analysis of federal data.

The analysis compared gross domestic product, population and other factors among northern and Midwestern states that played a key role in Trump’s victory or are typically considered part of the industrial heartland, with those in the south and along the Gulf Coast that have become an emerging destination for auto and other investment.

Florida, a state whose population has boomed under an influx of retirees, many of them from the north, was excluded.

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