Will Expanded Clout For Port Authority Strengthen Its Economic Development Capabilities?

Early this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designated the entire 226-mile stretch of the Ohio River between Huntington, WV and Louisville, KY as the “Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky,” greatly expanding it from its previous 26 miles. This expansion mirrors other large-scale capacity and access expansions across America’s inland ports.

In Duluth, MN work began in May on a project to enhance rail connections and the intermodal abilities of the port. The Duluth Seaway Authority, the western edge of the St. Lawrence Seaway, states that it is the largest project they have undertaken since their creation in the 1950s.

Further south, America’s Central Port, the port authority for the St. Louis region, began a new $50 million project to provide rail access to six Class I carriers and increase intermodal capabilities. And ports along the Great Lakes are seeing increased shipments of steel, grain, and salt, and are also upgrading rail infrastructure to keep up with demand.

The growth of these ports coincides with several different events. As the nation continues to recover economically from the Great Recession, traffic is increasing along most of America’s transportation corridors; and rail-river/lake intermodal traffic is becoming increasingly popular.

This trend is evidenced in the US Department of Transportation’s recent designation of the Mississippi River as a “container-on-vessel route,” which will provide a vast corridor for container shipping by barge along the entire Mississippi River system. Founded in 1999 to stimulate economic development in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, the Mid-America Port Commission plans to create even more port authorities in the near future along the Mississippi River.

The congestion in Chicago’s rail yards and limited real estate along Lake Michigan is also contributing to growth in other Midwestern ports. Also looming in the background of these expansion decisions is the soon-to-be-opened Panama Canal expansion, which is expected to increase traffic within all of America’s ports and transportation corridors.

This recent expansion of Cincinnati’s port authority makes it the second largest inland port in the United States, and is expected to enable the region to take better advantage of these trends and help serve as a catalyst for economic development.

The problem for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, however, is a continued lack of dedicated funding stream. This limits the organization’s ability to pursue economic development projects that have come to define its core mission.

REDI CEO Johnna Reeder spoke to this at an August meeting for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, for which she serves as a board member. At that time Reeder said that the region must do a better job at attracting manufacturing jobs and wants the Port Authority to play a larger role in doing just that.

A proposal to lease the bulk of Cincinnati’s parking assets was approved in June 2013 and would have provided such a revenue stream for the Port Authority. This deal, however, was later cancelled upon the arrival of newly elected Mayor John Cranley (D) and affirmed by a majority of City Council in December 2013.

Federal Reserve Data Reveals Cincinnati Economy is Out-Performing Regionally, Lagging Nationally

New data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, which covers Ohio, western Pennsylvania, the West Virginia panhandle, and the eastern half of Kentucky, provides a glimpse into the recovery and transition of the region’s economy.

According to the newly released data, spanning from 2001 to 2012, this Federal Reserve region has weathered an incredibly tumultuous 11 years.

“Historically, much of the region has specialized in manufacturing, a sector that has been particularly hard hit over the past few decades,” noted Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland research analyst Matthew Klesta in his data brief. “Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, however, the decline in manufacturing employment has slowed. In some places, employment has even grown.”

Since the first year of recorded information in this data set, all 17 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in the region, with the exception of Wheeling, WV, saw losses in manufacturing employment – the region’s historical economic stalwart. MSAs like Dayton and Steubenville posted losses of almost 50%. Cincinnati, meanwhile, saw its manufacturing sector decline by nearly 25% – a mark that is low by regional standards.

International trends in trade in the early 2000s, like China’s entry into the WTO and the increase of offshoring from developed to developing nations, combined with the Great Recession, dealt a critical blow to the area’s manufacturing sector. Excluding education and health services, every other industry in the region saw significant jumps in the annual percentage of jobs being lost during the Great Recession.

For example, between 2001 and 2007 the average loss per annum for the manufacturing sector was a little less than 3%; but from 2008-2009 it jumped to nearly 7%. Since the Great Recession, however, many MSAs in the area have posted modest gains in manufacturing employment, while still falling well below baseline levels in 2001.

While the manufacturing sector has declined throughout this Federal Reserve region, health and education sectors have grown. Despite a nationwide average of 1.2 health and education service jobs gained per 1 manufacturing job lost, only four MSAs in the region (Cincinnati, Columbus, Huntington, Pittsburgh) can boast an overall replacement of lost manufacturing jobs with health and education employment.

The replacement of manufacturing jobs with health and education employment does not bode well for the region’s workers. According to the data, the health and education sectors pay, on average ($44,000 in 2012), significantly less than manufacturing ($55,000 in 2012).

But while this changing economic landscape has meant a smaller presence for manufacturing in the region, this Federal Reserve Bank region continues to be highly specialized in that economic sector. Perhaps as a result, population loss continues to plague many MSAs within the region.

From 2001-2011, while the national population grew by 10% the regional population posted an average gain of only 1.6%. In fact, only five (Cincinnati, Huntington, Akron, Columbus, Lexington) of the 17 MSAs in the region saw their population rise over that time period. Of those five metropolitan areas, only two (Lexington and Columbus) posted gains in both population and private-sector employment.

Pittsburgh and Wheeling, meanwhile, managed to post positive gains in private-sector employment while still shedding population. The remaining 10 MSAs all posted losses in private-sector employment and population.