Why Business is Different in the Midwest
Brian Gongol

Business is often conducted quite differently in the American Midwest than it is in other parts of the world -- and even from different parts of the United States. On occasion, people have acknowledged this sort of difference and tried to identify some of the causes. The department of economics at the University of Chicago, for instance, forged a very different path than other institutions that some within the department have attributed to the city's geographic isolation from other population centers. Others, notably Jeff Matthews in his book "Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett's Omaha", have speculated that being physically removed from the psychologically and physically faster pace of markets in places like New York turned Buffett into a more deliberate, patient investor than others. Matthews refers to Omaha as a place where it's "easier to think" than in busier, more populous locations.

While the nature of geographic isolation surely does have an effect on the way that Midwesterners approach things, having lots of wide-open spaces around is only a contributing factor -- not the decisive one -- in causing business to take on a different character in one part of the country than it does elsewhere. If isolation alone -- room to think, perhaps -- were enough, then North Dakota and Wyoming and Alaska would be full of wealthy people. That is obviously not the case.

There are at least three factors that may not be unique to the Midwest, but certainly do have an effect on the way that native-born Midwesterners think, particularly about business: When outsiders discuss the Midwest, they often remark on things like the cheap food or the friendliness of ordinary people. Those are undoubtedly good factors in our reputation. But the real reasons why business is different here lie deeper under the surface than a hearty breakfast and a smile. Nobody says that the Midwest has exclusive claim to the deeper causes of our unusual business environment, but fortunately the social consensus keeps them in place here, even if others choose deliberately not to co-opt them.