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CHICAGO_On the surface, the massive job cuts announced by DaimlerChrysler AG in January suggest a revival of the Rust Belt era, when the manufacturing heartland became an icon for industrial decay.
Yet even as the auto industry prepares for hard times, the Midwest finds itself in an unexpectedly strong position.
Contrary to the lingering stereotype, the central part of the country has become the auto industry's site of choice. Far from fleeing overseas, automakers have returned to the industry's cradle, bringing new plants and high-paying jobs to a swath of Midwestern real estate stretching from Chicago to Akron, Ohio, with a growing presence in a few Southern states.
That revival of the traditional auto corridor makes the Midwest's economy vulnerable to the cycles of a boom-and-bust industry.
But the same factors that spurred the growth suggest the region will maintain its strong position. The latest indication: When DaimlerChrysler said it would cut 26,000 jobs, or 20 percent of its North American workforce, most of the job losses fell among plants outside the Midwest.
Anyone familiar with the history of the automotive industry knows that things have not always been this way. Fifty years ago, for instance, auto plants were dispersed around the country in an effort to produce cars close to the markets where they would be sold.
But various factors have conspired since then to concentrate manufacturing of cars and their …