Comprehensive Study Needed to Examine Cincinnati’s Migration Problem

Cincinnati has a problem with attracting immigrants.

While it is the largest metropolitan region in Ohio, Cincinnati lags behind both Cleveland and Columbus in attracting foreign migrants. Even as Cleveland continues to lose population and struggles with a weak economy, Cincinnati, with its much stronger economy and national recognition, attracts fewer of America’s newest residents.

More alarmingly, at 4.6%, Cincinnati ranks behind all of its regional competitors (Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis) in percentage of foreign-born population. Columbus (10.5%) and Indianapolis (8.4%) have double or nearly-double the percentage of foreign born population. Cincinnati only bests Pittsburgh and Louisville in terms of attracting immigrants over the past three years.

International Migration 2010-2013

The United States as a whole continues to attract millions of new immigrants. They’re just not coming to Cincinnati at the same rate as elsewhere.

Mayor John Cranley’s (D) recent announcement to start an initiative to grow the immigrant population in Cincinnati is a welcome one. With statistics showing that immigrants are more likely than non-immigrant Americans to start a business, a flux of foreign residents would be good for Cincinnati’s economy in more than one way.

Cranley is not unique among mayors in cities across the nation that have suffered massive population losses since the 1950s. From Baltimore and Philadelphia, to Detroit and Dayton, cities across the country are now targeting immigrant communities in order to help bolster populations and foster economic growth.

Preferably, Cincinnati’s quest to attract new immigrants will be part of a larger plan to attract new residents, period. While lagging behind in attracting immigrants, the region also continues to shed existing residents to other parts of the country.

International - Domestic Migration in 2013

Local leaders should authorize a comprehensive study to find out why Cincinnati struggles so greatly with attracting domestic and international migrants. With a growing economy and incredible regional assets, there is no reason why Cincinnati should fail so miserably at attracting new people.

It may prove wise to set city funds aside to create some sort of media blitz that touts the benefits of the city and the surrounding region. With a recent Gallup poll showing that 138 million people around the world would choose to move to the United States if given the opportunity, the market for new immigrants is surely present. Some sort of economic incentive would help as well. Tax breaks for immigrant businesses and incentives to live within city limits will help attract immigrants of all economic levels.

It is not a stretch to imagine that Columbus’ ability to attract and retain so many more immigrants than Cincinnati is due to the presence of Ohio State University, one of the nation’s most prominent public universities. As a result, Cranley should take heed and foster greater cooperation between the City of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, using those nationally-recognized institutions to attract even more newcomers.

At the end of the day, however, immigration is a national issue. For that reason, regional leadership should be in active dialogue with Cincinnati’s Congressional delegation and lobby them to support immigration reform and initiatives that will help attract immigrants not just to the U.S. in general, but to the Cincinnati region specifically.

The suburbanization and segregation of American cities didn’t happen by chance

Most urban planners are taught that public policies, in addition to free market choice, led to the suburbanization, and thus segregation, of most American cities. In fact, some argue that public policies had a far greater role in influencing this migration than anything else. More from the Washington Post:

Suburbs didn’t become predominantly white and upper income thanks solely to market forces and consumer preferences. Inner city neighborhoods didn’t become home to poor minority communities purely through the random choices of minorities to live there. Economic and racial segregation didn’t just arise out of the decisions of millions of families to settle, by chance, here instead of there.

The geography that we have today — where poverty clusters alongside poverty, while the better-off live in entirely different school districts — is in large part a product of deliberate policies and government investments. The creation of the Interstate highway system enabled white flight. The federal mortgage interest deduction subsidized middle-income families buying homes there. For three decades, the Federal Housing Administration had separate underwriting standards for mortgages in all-white neighborhoods and all-black ones, institutionalizing the practice of “redlining.” That policy ended in the 1960s, but the patterns it reinforced didn’t end with it.

“Exclusionary zoning” to this day prevents the construction of modest or more affordable housing in many communities. Decisions about where to create and whether to fund transit perpetuate these divides. Government ideas about how to house the poor lead to Pruitt-Igoe and Cabrini-Green, and then government’s fleeting commitment to those projects led to their disintegration.

Hamilton County Posted Largest Population Gain in Cincinnati MSA in 2013

New population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week show that Hamilton County’s population slide has ended and that the Cincinnati metropolitan region remains the largest in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana with more than 2.1 million people.

In 2013 Hamilton County added more than 2,000 new people – making it the biggest gainer in the 15-county tri-state region. Warren County came in a close second with just under 2,000 new people.

Boone and Kenton Counties in Kentucky and Clermont County in Ohio also posted population gains of more than 1,000 people. Meanwhile five rural counties in the region saw their population decline, with Brown County in Ohio losing the most at an estimated 165 people.

The Cincinnati region as a whole is estimated to have added just over 8,000 residents in 2013.

Cincinnati MSA Population Changes 2010-2013

Over the past year, the region also posted gains in terms of international migration, but saw continued losses for domestic migration. Net migration to the Cincinnati region was actually negative, but thanks to births significantly outpacing deaths, the region was able to post its overall population gain.

When compared to Columbus and Cleveland, Cincinnati lags in terms of international migration numbers.

Columbus, meanwhile, is the only region out of the big three in Ohio that posted gains in both international and domestic migration – making it the only metropolitan area in the state to have positive net migration in 2013.

Regionally, Hamilton County was the only county to see more than 1,000 new international migrants. But at the same time, Hamilton County also recorded the largest domestic migration loss of any county in the region.

While most all of Hamilton County’s population gains can be attributed to births exceeding deaths, approximately half of Warren County’s gain can be attributed to its positive net migration over the past year. Aside from Warren County, only four other counties in the region experienced positive net migration.

Ohio Metropolitan Region 2030 Population Projection

The population estimates continue to look bad for Cleveland, which recorded regional population loss once again. Since the 2010 Decennial Census, Cleveland has posted average annual population losses of 0.2%, while Cincinnati and Columbus have posted gains of 0.4% and 1.1% respectively.

Should these trends hold over the coming years, Columbus will follow Cincinnati’s lead and pass Cleveland, once the state’s most populous metropolitan region, in terms of overall population by 2017.

Due to the faster growth taking place in Columbus, it will also eventually catch and pass Cincinnati as the state’s most populous region a decade from now. Cleveland, meanwhile, will see its regional population dip below two million in 15 years.

A long forecasted but yet realized trend appears to be taking hold in the second decade of the new millennium. Instead of cities bleeding population to suburban areas, rural areas are now losing their population to suburban areas while cities hold on to their core population while also continuing to attract international and some domestic migrants from suburban and rural areas.

The Decennial Census in 2010 was a splash of cold water for many cities, including Cincinnati, who had thought that they had already reversed decades of population loss. Perhaps these new trends, now being realized, will finally result in the population gain so many cities have been longing for in 2020.

How do the housing markets in Ohio’s largest metropolitan regions compare?

A surge of new home construction rang in the new millennium just over a decade ago, but that surge quickly ended when the now infamous housing bubble burst, subsequently leading to the Great Recession.

In recent years the economy has begun to rebound, but the housing market still has not quite come back. In particular, the home ownership housing market has not come back.

This had led to a new surge of housing construction as developers work to build product for a still growing U.S. population. Cities have seen much of this new apartment construction as the rebounding economy has coincided with the entrance of Millennials into the housing market.

The narrative has been that rentals are surging while home ownership is sagging, but according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this common narrative is only partly true.

Home Ownership Rates in Ohio MSAs
Apartment Vacancy Rate in Ohio MSAs

In Ohio’s five largest metropolitan regions the data shows that home ownership rates have settled out around the same levels they were at nearly two decades ago. And while apartment vacancy rates have been plummeting in recent years, they are still higher than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

Akron and Cleveland are virtually tied for the highest home ownership rates in Ohio at 66%, but this is down from their respective peaks of 80% and 77% around the height of the housing bubble. At 61%, Columbus scores the lowest of Ohio’s five biggest metropolitan regions in terms of home ownership.

Columbus boasts the state’s lowest apartment vacancy rate at 6%, which is approaching the capital city’s all-time lowest apartment vacancy rate of 5% in 1990. The Dayton region has the highest apartment vacancy rate in the state, with its apartments sitting empty nearly twice as much as those in Columbus.

Both when it comes to home ownership and apartment vacancy rate, Cincinnati seems to serve as the state’s trend line. For the year ending 2013, the Queen City had a home ownership rate of 63% and an apartment vacancy rate of 9%.

While the aforementioned data seems to cloud the discussion about housing market trends, additional data also shows that overall inventory and prices of owner-occupied units is decreasing, while inventory and pricing of rental units is increasing.

Locally, Cincinnati is in the midst of an apartment building boom, with thousands of units across the region currently under construction. While home permits have increased recently, those numbers pale in comparison.

As the knowledge economy takes greater hold, where does Cincinnati fit in?

As Cincinnati’s new leadership settles into their self-empowered roles of merely paving roads and keeping streetlights on, how does that position the city and region in an ever-changing economic landscape that is favoring fewer and fewer places? By not investing in placemaking strategies and transit, the city’s future may appear bleak unless a change is made. More from The New York Times:

“The most profitable businesses no longer involve heavy machinery; they are rooted in ideas, which, it turns out, spread most effectively when knowledge workers are densely packed together. The top handful of major metropolitan areas — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles — account for a hugely disproportionate share of overall U.S. economic growth, Glaeser says. There is every reason to believe this trend will continue and, most likely, increase. That will draw even more of the high-earning elite to big cities and many of the poor, too, seeking jobs and assistance in these centers of economic growth.”

Is Cincinnati prepared for the emerging economic influence and preference of the Millennials?

The most educated generation the world has ever seen is starting to flex its muscle when it comes to the location of corporate headquarters. For years it has been said that Millennials would and are choosing places to live before choosing places to work, and with increasing evidence of the talented, young professionals turning down jobs for companies in suburbs, this seems to be true. What is Cincinnati doing to position itself as one of the small group of cities who win over the largest and most educated generation in American history? More from Yahoo! Finance:

After decades of big businesses leaving the city for the suburbs, U.S. firms have begun a new era of corporate urbanism. Nearly 200 Fortune 500 companies are currently headquartered in the top 50 cities. Many others are staying put in the suburbs but opening high-profile satellite offices in nearby cities, sometimes aided by tax breaks and a recession that tempered downtown rents. And upstart companies are following suit, according to urban planners. The bottom line: companies are under pressure to establish an urban presence that projects an image of dynamism and innovation.

As young workers start families, they may care more about soccer fields and good schools than sushi restaurants and bike paths, priorities that may send them out of the urban core. But the employers that sought them out in the city are unlikely to follow them back to the suburbs, said Mr. Phillips of the Urban Land Institute. “Given energy prices and traffic conditions, it’ll be a long time before we see another wave of suburbanization.”