Noah Smith's plan for reviving rural and small-city America is to spend a fortune establishing research universities that will attract graduate students from abroad. A good many of them will then settle where they went to school. And they will then figure out how to use local factors of production to generates value in the world economy, and so revive the area. But that would require boosterish elites in the south, in the prairie, and in the midwest. And part of the social pathology of those regions is that they do not have boosterish elites:

Paul Krugman: Getting Real About Rural America: "Nobody knows how to reverse the heartland’s decline.... Rural lives matter—we’re all Americans, and deserve to share in the nation’s wealth.... But it’s also important to get real. There are powerful forces behind the relative and in some cases absolute economic decline of rural America—and the truth is that nobody knows how to reverse those forces. Put it this way: Many of the problems facing America have easy technical solutions; all we lack is the political will. Every other advanced country provides universal health care. Affordable child care is within easy reach. Rebuilding our fraying infrastructure would be expensive, but we can afford it—and it might well pay for itself. But reviving declining regions is really hard. Many countries have tried, but it’s difficult to find any convincing success stories... Southern Italy... the former East Germany.... Maybe we could do better, but history is not on our side...