You often hear American politicians speak about “Normal America” in a reference to the country’s historical small town narrative – one that is also defined by a largely white, European-derived population. FiveThirtyEight actually dug into the data and found that Normal America is most often found in racially diverse metropolitan regions between 1-2 million people in size.
One of the outliers in their assessment, however, was Cincinnati, which ranked as one of the top ten places in America that are most similar with 1950s America. Indianapolis joined Cincinnati as one of two large regions in this status. What’s more is that Kentucky (#1), Indiana (#3) and Ohio (#7) all ranked within the top ten states that most resemble 1950s America, not the one of today. More from FiveThirtyEight:
We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. Those notions might be based on our own nostalgia or our hopes for the future. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists. I used the same method to measure which places in America today are most similar demographically to America in 1950, when the country was much whiter, younger and less-educated than today.
Cincinnati has a migration problem that is two-fold. First, it lags behind most major metropolitan regions in North America when it comes to attracting international migrants. Second, and perhaps more significantly, is that the region has a stagnant domestic population.
As many demographers and social scientists have pointed out, focusing public policy on retaining existing talent is a bad approach. In fact, large movements of people out of one region can be a very positive thing. That is, of course, if it is balanced out by a large influx of people into that same region. This is the case for North America’s largest cities, and is also evidenced at a larger scale in California.
But beyond that, older Midwestern cities with a large cluster of high-quality universities also seem to export more people than they import. That, in and of itself, is not the problem.
“This notion of the university as a “factory” gets very close to the truth,” Aaron Renn, owner of The Urbanophile, wrote in 2010. “A friend of mine noted that if we treated steel mills like universities, Indiana would be obsessing over “steel drain” and spending hundreds of millions of dollars on programs to try to keep steel from leaving the state.”
Renn went on to say that the notion of doing such a thing would be ludicrous, and that it is important to understand the details of what is really going on when it comes to a region’s migration patterns.
“Migration does matter. Any city that thinks it can be blasé about this is fooling themselves,” wrote Renn in a separate piece. “On the other hand, surface numbers only tell us so much. We need to understand the dynamics going on underneath the hood.”
By most comparative measure, Cincinnati actually does very well compared to many places at retaining its population. The problem is that it does very poorly at bringing in new people from outside the region.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the areas of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) which have the highest percentage of people living there that were born in another state are near state borders. Since the Cincinnati MSA stretches across three states, you can see that movement of Ohio residents to southeastern Indiana and northern Kentucky has boosted numbers in those locales.
On average, approximately 68% of the 2.2 million person Cincinnati region was born in the state where they currently reside. Meanwhile, Uptown and Cincinnati’s northeast suburbs appear to be the only parts of the region that are actually attracting newcomers to the region.
Another key finding here is the utter lack of movement of people into or out of Cincinnati’s western suburbs, which have a native born population between 80-100%. This number is roughly comparable to most rural areas in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
The Cincinnati region, however, is not alone when it comes to a stagnant population.
The numbers are even worse for the Cleveland MSA, which, on average, has a percentage of native born population higher than the average for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. This is in spite of the Cleveland MSA attracting more international migrants than any other in the three-state region.
Even though Cincinnati continues to post modest annual population growth, it continues to be on the outside looking in when it comes to North America’s most economically successful cities. If Cincinnati wants to just focus on attracting existing Americans to the region, then it should look to Houston, Dallas or Atlanta, which are all hubs for domestic migration.
This scenario, however, seems unlikely since each of those regions is positioned uniquely in terms of their economy or their geographic location. So, if Cincinnati is to really ramp up its population growth, it better look at what other metropolitan regions are doing to make themselves more attractive to international migrants.
Perhaps Mayor John Cranley’s new, yet-to-be-unveiled initiative can help with this. But does he or his administration actually know what is going on underneath the hood?
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.
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.
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.
There were many significant achievements and trouble spots for Mayor Mark Mallory (D) over his past eight years as the face for the 2.1 million person Cincinnati region. Perhaps one of his largest accomplishments, however, was changing Cincinnati’s image nation-wide from a city in decline to one that is on the rise and doing innovative things.
For the first time national publications began to look at Cincinnati for its accomplishments in public education, sustainable redevelopment, environmental policy and even transport.
Thanks in part to the aggressive marketing of Cincinnati by Mayor Mallory, new national chains like Yard House and Ruth’s Chris have begun filling store fronts throughout the city. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.
Each of these items involved a number of more detailed pursuits in order to make them happen. One of those pursuits was to attract new retail businesses to the region. In order to accomplish this, Mayor Mallory went on a full campaign touting the amenities and demographics Cincinnati has to offer.
After much work, the efforts started to yield fruit.
According to the mayor’s director of public affairs, Jason Barron, Mallory met personally with Potbelly (Downtown), Chipotle (Corryville, Downtown) and Panera Bread (Clifton Heights, Downtown) in an effort to get them to expand their presence inside city limits.
“We’ve been aggressive at national events for about six years now,” Barron explained. “We weren’t able to go this year in May, but Mayor Mallory has met with a number of these businesses over the years.”
The mayor also met directly with a number of other national chains in order to make the case that they open a location in Cincinnati. Those successes include Yard House (Downtown), Ruth’s Chris (Downtown), Orange Leaf (Clifton Heights, Downtown, Oakley, Westwood), Season’s 52 (Norwood), Capital Grill (Norwood), and Save-A-Lot (Roselawn).
For many of these businesses it was not only their first location in Cincinnati, but also their first in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana. Barron says that it is thanks in part to the efforts made by Mallory on the road at events like the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) annual meeting.
The efforts do require a bit of patience, as Barron says that not only has the administration been courting new businesses for years, they also believe that some of the benefits have yet to be realized.
“One of the things we’re always trying to do is create a buzz about Cincinnati to other leaders, businesses and investors,” said Barron. “The mayor’s making connections now that will pay off down the road.”
While the buzz can often times be attributed to the spirited Mallory, the mayor’s office is quick to point out that much of the heavy lifting has been done by local experts like Mark Fallon at Jeffrey R. Anderson. Most recently Fallon has been responsible for leasing both U Square at The Loop and The Banks.
More national brands appear to be on their way to Cincinnati, but the mayor’s office refuses to speak about the deals before they are finalized. But in addition to new restaurants and bars, Cincinnatians might expect to see other businesses opening up shop in the Queen City over the next one to two years.
Certainly chain restaurants are not the only retailers Cincinnati has been lacking, but the outside investment is certainly welcome. The next step will be to attract more clothing retailers to the city, and to expand the base of independent shops around town.
But luckily, as people close with the mayor might say, the buzz is starting to take shape.
The growth of intercity passenger rail and bus continues. According to newly released data, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) recorded a record breaking year in terms of both ridership and revenue.
The data is for FY13, and showed that the oft-criticized passenger rail agency carried 31.6 million passengers and collected $2.1 billion in ticket revenue. Amtrak officials say that the ridership figure represented a 1% increase while revenue was 4.2% higher than the previous year.
In addition to the ridership and revenue growth, Amtrak also broke several records over the past year including total ridership in one month (March; July), ridership records on 20 of the agency’s 45 routes and the number of passengers using state-supported routes (15.4 million) in a single year.
When compared with other modes of transportation, Amtrak now has more than double the ridership of Greyhound, and if it were a commercial airline it would be the fifth largest domestic carrier.
Cincinnati has largely been on the outside looking in when it comes to Amtrak ridership growth, but unclogging the Midwest’s second busiest railyard will need to come first. Photograph by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.
“In ten of the last 11years, we have marked new ridership records, and since ridership has risen by 50% since FY2000,” Amtrak’s President and CEO, Joe Boardman, told employees through an internal memo. “This great accomplishment is not solely ours, but was made possible through strong, collaborative relationships with our state partners and the federal government.”
Boardman went on to say that through these relationships, Amtrak will pursue the resources needed to rebuild and enhance passenger rail service throughout the country, and work toward building infrastructure to support high-speed rail.
As a result of these partnerships and ridership growth, Amtrak now recovers approximately 85% of its annual operating expenses from user fees.
“I believe that all of these records point to our success in creating and marketing a product desired by the traveling public,” Boardman explained. “In growing metropolitan areas, passenger rail is clearly a viable alternative to crowded roads and skies, while in many rural areas, Amtrak often is the only means of regularly scheduled, public intercity transportation.”
While Amtrak’s success has been felt nationwide, very little has been felt here at home in Ohio due to limited service in the nation’s seventh most populated state. The reason, passenger rail advocates say, is because of a lack of support from the State of Ohio.
“We are on the outside looking in. Ohio isn’t on the outside due to a lack of travel, as USDOT says travel on Ohio’s stretch of I-71 (Cleveland-Cincinnati) ranked 22nd in the country with nearly 5.5 billion vehicle-miles traveled in 2011,” noted Ken Prendergast, Executive Director, All Aboard Ohio. “In the Midwest, only I-94 through Michigan (Detroit-Chicago) saw more traffic in 2011.”
Prendergast went on to note that the stretch of I-94 through Michigan is currently being upgraded to 110mph service by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), with some stretches operating at that speed already.
The situation in Ohio has been bad for a long time, but got significantly worse following the election of Governor John Kasich (R) in 2010. Almost immediately after taking office, Kasich gave away $400 million from the federal government that was intended to establish passenger rail along the 3C Corridor. The stretch between Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland is seen as the most densely populated corridor in North America without any passenger rail service.
Not all hope for Ohio, however, is lost. On National Train Day this past May, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (D) commended the work being done by Amtrak and called for enhanced service and operations out of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal.
“Passenger rail has to be part of a balanced multi-modal transportation system that I believe the federal government needs to play a huge role in in addition to states and local governments,” Mallory stated at Cincinnati’s National Train Day event on May 11. “Indiana has made a lot of progress as it relates to Amtrak…wouldn’t it be great to be able to jump on a train in Cincinnati, run to Indianapolis and then on to Chicago? I want Cincinnati to be a part of that line.”