Cincinnati Fares Poorly When Examining Centralization of Jobs Throughout Region

A December 2014 Salon article, using statistics from an April, 2013 Brookings Institute report shed light on an increasingly-present paradox in the American economy – America’s next generation of workers prefers urban living, but jobs tend to be decentralized and located far from most region’s urban center.

The report found that from 2000 to 2007 the share of jobs located within two miles of a major urban area’s central business district declined 2%; and that by 2010, a nationwide average of 43% of jobs were located at least 10 miles from the CBD. Only 24% of jobs, meanwhile, were located within two miles of most regions’ primary downtown.

The pattern is more acute in Cincinnati than in most other metropolitan areas, where a robust urban turnaround has been taking place. Compared to the national average of 22.9%, only 17.7% of the region’s jobs were located within three miles of the CBD, which in Cincinnati’s case would also include Uptown. Furthermore, 52.8% of the region’s jobs, approximately 452,000, lie between 10 and 35 miles from downtown.

In the first decade of the new century, which was defined nationally by the huge job losses of the Great Recession, the Cincinnati region lost a total of 76,845 jobs. Of those, 67,122 were within 10 miles of the CBD. While total jobs declined 8.2%, the jobs within 10 to 35 miles of downtown Cincinnati increased 3.3%, with both other areas experiencing declines.

While these recent gains tend to buck the national trend, the Cincinnati region’s employment remains more sprawled than the average American metropolitan area. But while the region has fewer jobs than average within 10 miles its CBD, the Cincinnati region has more jobs within 10 to 35 miles than all but three Midwestern regions (Detroit – 77.4%, Chicago – 67.4%, St. Louis – 62.1%). Columbus and Cleveland come in at 35.4% and 46.5%, respectively.

What this seems to indicate is that Cincinnati has a lower reliance on jobs from manufacturing and agricultural industries than most of its Midwestern peers.

The Brookings Institute went on to find that the Great Recession stalled this trend across the board, as hard-hit industries like manufacturing and retail tend to be the most decentralized. Yet, from 2000 to 2010, 91 of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation saw the number of jobs within three miles of their CBD decline.

Washington, DC, which serves as a national economic outlier for its massive job and wage growth, was the only metropolitan area that saw downtown jobs rise as both a percentage and gross number.

Researchers say that the land-use and zoning policies of each metropolitan area affect the geographical characteristics of jobs within that area. While metropolitan areas with over 500,000 jobs tend to be more decentralized, large metropolitan regions like Chicago, Atlanta or Detroit include large secondary clusters of employment outside of their traditional downtown.

While talented young workers increasingly show their preference for walkable urban communities, jobs continue to decentralize throughout the United States. This distribution creates problems for the region in terms of building and maintaining infrastructure. It also does not bode well for more sprawled regions, like Cincinnati, in terms of being able to attract a new workforce to take the place of aging Baby Boomers.

  • matimal

    An analysis of jobs that takes into account salaries would help to explain this. The highest paid jobs are concentrated in the most central locations.The lower the value(pay) of a worker, the less it matters where that worker is located. The less important it is to other workers to have contact with that worker. The higher the value(pay) of that worker, the more value she has in a web of workers, the more is to be gained from networking, I.e. being centrally located to other high-value workers.

    • Mully Mull


    • matimal

      What a powerful and insightful critique..and so witty, too!

  • Matt Jacob

    Can we get a map of where these 3 boundaries fall in Cincinnati?

    • Matthew Jumper

      Quick hack at it with an online tool. Some explanation of our numbers is that a large pocket of GE, P&G, J&J, etc. jobs are just outside the 10 mi radius.

    • Matt Jacob

      Now we can get an even better idea of this in Cincinnati

    • Matthew Jumper

      Better versions. Green outline on the second is the region I’m referring to that inflates our 10-35mi numbers. If the break was 14mi it would be a different story. Someone previously mentioned the area between our parallel interstates having more jobs and this supports that. It continues for a while north of 275 as well.

    • Matt Jacob

      Thanks for the maps. It helps to have a picture of what we’re talking about.

      While I agree that there are a number of job in the area that you described, I’m unsure if that’s actually the biggest concentration in our region outside of downtown. Sometimes what seems like a high number, because of say an office building, might not actually hold as many as people perceive, because it’s half empty. You might be right, but it’s hard for me to judge. Also wondering where the airport falls and the number of people working in the warehouses around it like at Amazon.

      This might be too much to ask, but any one know of a way to visualize job locations? I’m thinking a heat map style overlay. I’ve got a feeling that there would be a couple places that surprise us all with how many jobs are actually in some places.

    • TimSchirmang

      Thank you. That green outline could not do a better visual job of showing what I noted above. If you’re a business looking for a home in Cincinnati, that pocket just kills it logistically. You’re within a few miles of stoplight free, straight-shot high speed connectivity to Detroit, Cleveland, Louisville (UPS), Atlanta, and Chicago, all within a day’s drive. It’s 100 square miles of pure gold.

    • charles ross

      Not only for a business, but anecdotally, as a job seeker, I can attest to this situation. I’m one half of an empty nester couple; we decided to move to the City, but it’s really hard to find corporate IT jobs in the city. I have looked and looked. There are some, especially around Pill Hill, and a few edgier startup types for the millenial unicorns, but the biggest concentration of cubicle slots is in the Blue Ash to Mason zone, pretty much your green outline. If you are looking for acres of corporate office parks, with Fortune 500 tenants in buildings planted by Duke, that’s the zone. So we now reverse-commute back out past Madeira where we used to live.

  • chrislamping

    Slightly off topic, but this is one of the reasons I scratch my head when people suggest that new downtown/otr developments don’t need parking. It’s just a fact that most jobs in our region exist outside of the city center. It’s fairly common to find downtown/otr that nearly half of a buildings residents commute to jobs outside of the city center. Our regions dependence on automobiles is here for the foreseeable future.

    • EDG

      I have no problem with residential car storage, the most progressive planning city in the world, London, encourages it. I do have a problem with taxpayer-funded parking garages that encourage employees to live outside of the city and county. If these garages are so crucial to employers, they should finance them 100% on their own. But since City admin builds one for any company that asks, they have to do so indefinitely in the name of economic development.

      The problem here is not that job centers exist outside of downtown, but as shown in a similar study published last year from Brookings, that outside of downtown and uptown, we have 0 walkable job and retail centers, creating an overdependence on auto travel eventually lead to this-

    • Commute related trips account for about 20% of the total trips we make each day. Planning for just 20% of the volume is both inefficient and ineffective. That is why we have such a poor performing transportation system today – in terms of mobility and congestion. We need to quit focusing on rush hour and start focusing on the 80%.

    • matimal

      Interesting, and potentially very important point. Do you have any citations to studies of this handy?

    • TimSchirmang

      Even if commutes count for only 20%, the natural aggregation of these trips during rush hour creates the peak demand on the system right? It’s understandable that this gets planning attention.

    • That’s an irresponsible and inefficient way to go about planning a system. Planning for peak periods that account for a fraction of the time and a fraction of the volume doesn’t work. We can see that in real life by the overbuilding of our highway infrastructure that still doesn’t manage to reduce congestion during those peak times.

      Honestly, it is okay to have some congestion during peak times. Instead of trying to “fix” it by adding more lanes, a more innovative and less heavy handed approach would be to let the market figure it out. This has worked elsewhere around the world. When things get too frustrating people just shift the times of their commute or find another way to get there. By not overbuilding the system we allow for a better performing, and less expensive, system overall.

    • TimSchirmang

      100% with you…I guess my point was that so long as the general labor market creates rush hours (via common work hours), planners are somewhat handcuffed. I suppose you could toll highways during peak hours to spur market adjustments. Congestion by itself doesn’t seem to work!

    • EDG

      It’s especially a problem when ITE traffic and parking manuals base their studies on the 4-6pm period, as if rush hour is magically also the busiest time for all uses.

    • EDG

      Commute mode choice is a strong factor in determining mode choice for non-work trips. If you can get more people walking/biking/busing to work, it is more likely that they will choose that option for non-work trips.

    • I don’t follow your logic here. We can, just as most every other successful city in the history of the world has done, build new capacity without building gobs of parking. Parking is perhaps the single biggest waste of land and resources there is…particularly in high value areas such as a CBD.

      I didn’t want to postulate on this in the article, but I have a feeling that Cincinnati’s higher than average job dispersal is due to the fact that it is so close to Dayton and Lexington. There are some jobs that spring up on the “edge” of the region by this study’s metrics, but are not the same types of edge developments the researchers are really thinking about. In the case of this study, larger cities might have these areas defined as secondary job clusters, and thus not drag down their score.

      What I thought was interesting about Cincinnati was that while there are fewer than average jobs within three miles of the region’s CBD, there are many more jobs than average with 10-35 miles. Like I said in the article, this may be a reflection of fewer farm and manufacturing jobs in the Cincinnati region than in most peer cities.

    • matimal

      This debate about parking as cause versus parking as effect is pointless. It’s both. It’s a circular relationship. That’s why it can’t’ change quickly. The fact that hundreds of street parking places sit empty now in downtown cincy because parking meters are now in effective after 5 is BOTH good because it encourages the use of other forms of transportation AND bad because it discourages some from coming downtown at all.

    • TimSchirmang

      Traveling north from mile marker 5, I-75 and I-71 remain unusually parallel for major interstates that ultimately lead in separate directions. The consistent spacing, about 6 – 8 miles, creates a perfectly cozy stretch of very accessible real estate, up until mile marker 28 or so. The southern 5 miles of this ‘fertile’ valley have many residential communities that predate the highways. From miles 10 to about 30 though, substantial employment pockets fill the area. Geographically, this appears to correlate very strongly with the data. Highway routing might well explain Cincy’s job distribution in part.

  • thebillshark

    This is why, when we expand our transit system, I would be in favor of maximizing service in close in dense neighborhoods instead of expanding coverage area in the outer suburbs and exurbs. In trying to serve commuters going to these job sprawl areas you will spend a lot of resources due to the distances involved, and still suffer from last mile issues like having the bus stop being located 1/2 mile down a fast moving road with no sidewalks from the place of business. Also these outer communities seem to have little interest in funding transit in the first place. Instead it would be better to maximize ridership by adding frequency and service hours to dense neighborhoods and thus enabling the kind of spontaneous non work related trips to take place via transit that can truly let people be less auto dependent. This will start a virtuous circle by both spurring development and enabling denser development than would otherwise be possible in an area with suburban style auto dependence and minimum parking requirements. More people and more jobs mean a stronger Cincinnati economy for decades to come. You can read about my idea for a frequent (10 minutes or less in between vehicles) network for Uptown that would connect to the Cincinnati Streetcar here:

  • Josh

    I am surprised no one has commented on taxes, although I probably should not be. The fact of the matter is that many employers that have the flexibility to be mobile within the region take Cincinnati’s 2.1% earnings tax into consideration when deciding where to locate their office/HQ. Of course, class-A office space is typically more expensive in or near the urban core and you may have to pay for parking as well. These factors make it easy for a company to stay outside of the city limits if it does not have to be downtown. Some firms may even prefer to be downtown but sometimes it comes down to need versus want, and cost is very much a deciding factor. Many of these firms are small businesses than cannot qualify for the taxpayer subsidized largesse afforded to the GE’s of the world. I would love to see the city focus on recruiting and retaining small businesses within the urban core.

  • John Schneider

    Might this be a simple explanation for this: since about 1/4 of all workers are self-employed, being paid via 1099’s which are mailed to their home addresses — I’m wondering if the locus of peoples’ jobs for statisical purposes are starting to conform to where people live even though they may actualy earn their money elsewhere including in the center of the region. To the extent Cincinnati has sprawled residentially, it may follow that the jobs data appear to be more sprawled than they really are. Just a hunch.