Report Outlines Conditions in Ohio’s Industrial Cities

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new report from the Greater Ohio Policy Center highlights the critical conditions of Ohio’s small and mid-sized older industrial cities and their regions in the wake of the Great Recession and decades of population and manufacturing job loss.

The report — From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring? — examines the economic health of Ohio’s older industrial cities — also known as legacy cities — over the last 15 years and recommends proactive state policy solutions to strengthen these places.

Analysis of trends in small, mid-sized, and large legacy cities as well as Columbus revealed that all city types experienced challenges over the last 15 years. But small and mid-sized legacy cities saw serious declines in their economic health and did not experience any of the small but encouraging gains seen in the large legacy cites — Cincinnati and Cleveland; and no legacy city type saw population growth close to the level of Columbus and its surrounding suburbs and exurbs.

“Ohio’s small and mid-sized older industrial cities have historically made up a critical part of the state’s economic and social fabric, and they remain important economic drivers for their regions and for Ohio as a whole,” said Lavea Brachman, executive director of Greater Ohio Policy Center.

“Unfortunately, the economic headwinds of recent decades have proved difficult for these cities to overcome. Despite some strong leadership and creative revitalization efforts on the local and state levels, these challenges were only exacerbated by the impact of the Great Recession. While these cities face a number of challenges, we strongly believe that with additional strategic interventions and collaborative efforts by state and local leaders, the trends highlighted in this report will not be these cities’ destinies,” Brachman said.

The 20 small and medium cities covered in the report all have populations of at least 20,000 people and are situated in larger metropolitan areas of less than one million people. Nearly one-third of Ohioans live in small or mid-sized cities or their surrounding regions and combined, just eight of these cities accounted for nearly 30% of the state’s gross domestic product in 2014.

Key findings include:

  • Mid-sized Ohio cities — Akron, Dayton, Toledo, Canton and Youngstown — have experienced some of the steepest declines in housing market stability of all city types. They face many of the same challenges related to poverty and housing markets as their larger peers but are not seeing the same signs of potential recovery.
  • Ohio’s small and mid-sized cities and their regions have struggled with decades of population loss and declines in their core manufacturing industries — just like their larger legacy city peers, Cleveland and Cincinnati. But the impact of the Great Recession further stalled recovery in smaller cities, as conditions in these cities continue to decline and impact their communities and surrounding areas.  While the large cities are beginning to see some signs of revitalization, smaller legacy cities do not always have the same critical mass of local assets — such as major corporate headquarters, significant cultural institutions, or other urban amenities — that are aiding revitalization in the larger places.
  • Columbus’ relatively strong economic and population growth masks the challenges of Ohio’s other cities when looking at state-level data and trends.  The trajectory of Columbus — the state’s capital and only major non-legacy city — diverges dramatically from Ohio’s legacy cities of all sizes.
  • Suburban and exurban areas outside of the mid-sized cities show troubling signs of instability in terms of population decline, economic health, and housing market strength.  In the past, growth in suburban and exurban areas has buoyed regions surrounding declining central cities, but there are strong indicators that this phenomenon may be waning.
  • On the whole the smallest legacy cities experienced the greatest declines in economic health of any city type, even though conditions among these cities vary more widely than their larger peers. Of greatest concern are staggering declines in the percentage of adults currently working or looking for jobs.
  • Legacy Ohio cities of all sizes continue to experience serious population loss. These problems are especially severe in large and mid-sized legacy cities, which are experiencing double-digit population decreases on average. Population declines are bleeding into the suburban areas of medium and small cities, while large city regional populations remain stagnant.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center makes recommendations for a state policy agenda that is sensitive to the challenges and opportunities of Ohio’s small and medium sized legacy cities and the regions they anchor. Forging a policy agenda directed at smaller and medium-sized places can reset these cities’ economies and facilitate their paths to recovery.  Recommendations include:

  • Implement long- and short-term strategies focused on sustaining strong neighborhoods
  • Develop strategies building on each city’s unique local assets to stimulate economic development
  • Encourage regional collaborations to promote investments in downtown cores
  • Tailor state interventions to account for differing local conditions and avoid “one size fits all” policies.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a mission to champion revitalization and sustainable growth in Ohio.

To read the entire report, click here.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.