The shine is gradually returning to America's Rust Belt. The industrial Midwest, for so long the world's car manufacturing centre and the engine of the nation's growth, has begun to rebound from almost two decades of crippling decline. For most of the 1970s and 1980s, urban decay, abandoned factories and smokestacks were the region's motif, as residents fled in their thousands to the new jobs in the Sun Belt of the South and Southwest. The Midwest's economic plight was summed up in the 1989 documentary movie, Roger and Me, which chronicled the despair and joblessness plaguing Flint, Michigan after massive lay-offs by the General Motors company. But like most of the region, Flint and neighbouring Detroit are on the way back, with population growth, rising wages, and unemployment which in some cases is lower than the national average. Businesses are even having problems finding qualified workers for their expansion needs. The good news was made official last week in a report from the Census Bureau, which cites the sustained population growth as proof of the region's renaissance. 'Although there are exceptions, our numbers show a definite pattern of economic and demographic recovery across the area - starting with recovery of their populations,' according to Glenn King, a Census Bureau economist. Reasons for the comeback vary from city to city and even county to county - but experts cite the boom in the overall economy, the recovery of America's auto industry, and efforts of local officials to steer workers away from heavy manufacturing to hi-tech and service jobs. 'Michigan, for example, has made a concentrated effort to diversify its economy away from being auto dependent,' said Mr King. 'That has had a positive impact.' Metropolitan Detroit - the industrial heart of Michigan and the region - has seen its population rise by 4.9 per cent this decade, reversing a two per cent loss in the 1980s. The creation of thousands of new jobs has brought a corresponding drop in crime, which used to paralyse the city. Every state in the area - Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky - has seen its fortunes improve. The biggest population growth during the 1990s came in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with a 7.7 per cent increase, followed closely by the same state's Sioux City, with a 5.1 per cent gain. Other big winners were Louisville, Kentucky, which grew by 4.7 per cent, and the massive Rust Belt conurbation of Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, which grew by 1.7 per cent after being decimated during the 1980s downturn. However, like the nation's greater economic recovery, the Midwest's upturn has tended to leave behind many of society's worst-off. Wayne State University urban planning professor Gary Sands told the Detroit Free Press: 'All these positive growth numbers are really, really impressive. 'But they are averages, and, to some degree, mask an increasing disparity between those who benefit from these changes and those who are being left behind. 'Their prospects for participating in this hi-tech, high-end growth wave are pretty slim,' Professor Sands said. 'We're increasing the gap between folks.'