Despite Progress, Cincinnati Not Viewed for Policy Leadership Across America

After surveying 89 mayors from around the United States, Boston University’s Initiative on Cities found that the chief concern amongst those surveyed was an increasing worry about maintaining and funding new infrastructure.

The analysis surveyed mayors from cities of varying sizes, including Cincinnati, and attempted to find the most pressing issues facing American cities.

With roads, mass transportation, and stormwater and wastewater management were the biggest concerns, the mayors specifically alluded to their historic reliance on the federal government as a partner in tackling these big-ticket issues. But more and more mayors around America have lost faith in both federal and state leaders in being reliable partners on large infrastructure projects.

In fact, a recent report authored by Aaron Renn at the Manhattan Institute looks at the issue many cities are facing when it comes to fixing combined sewer overflow problems. In the past, these infrastructure fixes were largely funded by the federal government, but have since become unfunded federal mandates that have led to enormous rate increases across the country, particularly in older cities.

Not all of the infrastructure issues were big ticket items. One such example was the support for bicycle infrastructure. Increasingly popular among America’s mayors, some 70% of those surveyed expressed their support for bike-friendly initiatives.

“Everyone understands that if you want to attract Millennials, you have to have biking infrastructure,” noted one of the surveyed mayors, who are allowed to remain anonymous, in the report. “And if you have bike infrastructure, you are going to upset people.”

Aside from infrastructure, major national news stories from 2015 seemed to factor into other concerns expressed throughout the country.

Those surveyed shared overwhelming support for reforms in policing, regardless of political party. Workforce development programs, initiatives to control rising housing costs, and policies focused on addressing poverty and inequality were all major issues of concern.

While housing prices were an area of major concern for those surveyed, there are large differences in opinion on how to tackle the issue. Some mayors expressed a willingness to emphasize affordable housing mandates even if it stymies development, while mayors of less prosperous cities were less likely to focus on affordable housing.

An area of potential concern for Cincinnati is that while it has gained national attention in recent years for its positive gains, many other mayors from around the country are not looking to the Queen City for policy guidance. Of those surveyed, Cincinnati was mentioned by less than 5% of them as a place they have looked at for inspiration.

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.

Cincinnati Posts Population Gain for Second Consecutive Year

Cincinnati has added about 1,000 new people since the decennial census in 2010, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The modest increase comes from two consecutive years of population gains that followed an immediate downward revision after the 2010 Census. The increase also means that just Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton were the only big cities (more than 50,000 people) in Ohio to post gains.

Columbus and Cincinnati, meanwhile, were the only big cities to post population gains for the past two years.

The population estimates are derived using the 2010 Census as a baseline and then factoring in new permitted residential construction and mobile homes, and subtracting out the estimated number of homes lost each year. As a result, all of the annual estimates should come with a grain of salt.

Ohio Cities Comparison

With that said, Dayton’s population gains appear to be an anomaly, while the increases in Columbus and Cincinnati appear to be more rooted. In any case, the news for Ohio’s big cities is not good as the rest all lost population, especially those in the northeastern part of the state.

Columbus continues to stand out from the rest of Ohio’s big cities in terms of its population trends. In this latest estimate release, Columbus posted the fifteenth largest numeric population gain of any municipality in America; and it comes on the heels of equally impressive gains in prior years.

Some observers, however, would attribute some of the gains in Columbus to its unusually large municipal boundaries that include what would be far suburbs in other Ohio regions.

While Columbus has been growing by about 1.5% annually over the past several years, Cincinnati has been growing annually by about 0.25%.

When compared with other peer cities, Cincinnati’s gains look even more tepid.

Peer Cities Comparison

Of fifteen other cities competitive with Cincinnati, the city bested only five of them in terms of population growth, while being significantly outperformed by most all others. In this comparison, even Ohio’s best performer – Columbus –fares only reasonably well against the field.

For Cincinnati’s peer cities, national trends appear to hold true. Southern cities continue to grow at the fastest clip, but their growth rates are leveling off. In our comparison, Austin, Atlanta and Tampa have all experienced significant declines in annual population growth since the 2010 Census. Charlotte has also experienced a similar trend, but appears to be holding steady more so than its Sun Belt peers.

Meanwhile, while many Midwestern cities continue to lose population, they are doing so at a slower rate or have stopped the losses entirely.

As we previously examined on UrbanCincy, the Cincinnati region continues to grow by about 0.4% annually. The City of Cincinnati’s 2013 gain represents approximately 12.5% of the total regional population growth, and half of Hamilton County’s increase last year.

In a nutshell, Cincinnati is over performing regionally, but under performing amongst its peers. If Cincinnati were growing as fast as Charlotte or Austin, the city would be adding around 9,000 new people every year.

What should a shrinking city do with its vacant housing stock?

Losing population isn’t fun, and a host of cities throughout the U.S. have been losing population since their collective peaks in the 1950s. Cincinnati is one of those cities. Along with the troubling finances this presents, it also creates the predicament of deciding what to do with vacant households left behind. In Cincinnati, and many others, the decision has been to tear down homes and hope for something better. More from The New York Times:

A recent Brookings Institution study found that from 2000 to 2010 the number of vacant housing units nationally had increased by 4.5 million, or 44 percent. And a report by the University of California, Berkeley, determined that over the past 15 years, 130 cities, most with relatively small populations, have dissolved themselves, more than half the total ever recorded in the United States. The continuing struggles of former manufacturing centers have fundamentally altered urban planning, traditionally a discipline based on growth and expansion.

President Obama Shifts Attention Toward Economy, Cities in 2013 State of the Union Address

President Barack Obama (D) delivered the annual State of the Union address last evening. The hour-long speech covered a wide range of topics including gun control, military policy, immigration reform, voting rights, domestic economic programs, education reform, and energy policy.

One of the most-discussed topics of the evening was when the President announced his aspirations to see the national minimum wage raised to $9 an hour. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour results in an annual income of $14,500 – a number the President says keeps families with two minimum wage earners below the poverty line.

In 2006, Ohioans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour, with an annual cost-of-living escalator.

“This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” President Obama stated. “It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.”

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 1

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 2
The President called for a “Fix-It-First” program during his State of the Union address, but will it make a difference for Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge Rehabilitation/Replacement project? Brent Spence Bridge replacement Alternative 1 (TOP) and Alternative 2 (BOTTOM) renderings provided.

Since the last time Congress voted to increase the federal minimum wage, which is effective for all states that have a minimum wage lower than the federal level, 19 different states have voted to raise their respective rates. The President’s $9 an hour proposal with an annual cost-of-living escalator would place it above every state in the union with the exception of Washington which pays its lowest earning workers $9.19 an hour.

In addition to raising the pay for the nation’s lowest earners, the President also pushed for new programs meant to spur job growth in a new economy. He called for the reform of high school education to more effectively train graduates to be able to fill high-tech jobs.

He also asked Congress to create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation hubs, modeled after the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) established in Youngstown, OH in August 2012. Those cities selected, the President says, would work to partner businesses with the Department of Defense and Energy.

The President stated that the goal is to transform “regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs” in an effort to jumpstart the next revolution in manufacturing.

The advanced manufacturing policy proposal is one that should certainly catch the attention of local policy leaders as they work to transform Cincinnati’s Mill Creek Valley into a productive economic engine for the 21st century, as laid out in the Growth & Opportunities Cincinnati Plan published in 2008.

Another point of emphasis during the President’s first State of the Union address of his second term revolved around repairing the nation’s existing built environment.

To that end, he discussed retrofitting buildings to become more energy efficient, and announced a goal to cut energy wasted by homes and businesses in half over the next 20 years. President Obama continued by calling for a program that would prioritize infrastructure spending on existing assets in need of repair, like Ohio and Kentucky’s combined 4,054 deficient bridges.

“I propose a ‘Fix-It-First’ program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs,” said President Obama. “And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.”

Perhaps the biggest bi-partisan applause of the night went to the President’s condemnation of gun violence and call for action to prevent further atrocities like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and those that occur on the streets of America’s cities every day.

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight,” President Obama clarified. “But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”