Of the 490,222 workers in Hamilton County, 39% of them are commuters from outside the county. This is according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Compared to other similarly sized metropolitan areas, this is a larger than normal percentage. In Cuyahoga County, home of Cleveland, for example, only 28% of the almost 700,000 workers commute from outside the county; and in Allegheny County, PA – the center of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area – that number is 22% of more than 680,000 workers.
The difference, some say, may be attributable to the fact that the Cincinnati region’s job center sits directly on a state line, and borders three counties in Northern Kentucky.
However, in Jefferson County, KY, with a similar amount of workers in the county as Hamilton County, only 26% of employees commute from outside Jefferson County. This is in spite of the fact that Louisville sits directly on the Ohio River, like Cincinnati, with commuters crossing the state line from Indiana each day.
Perhaps further explaining the matter is the merging of Cincinnati and Dayton’s economic activities, which increasingly promote cross commuting between Cincinnati’s northern, and Dayton’s southern counties.
Such commuting patterns complicate transportation management for regional planners. Not only does it mean heavy rush hour commutes, but also more unpredictable reverse commutes.
While Hamilton County was a bit of an outlier, it was joined by Davidson County, TN (Nashville), and St. Louis County, MO (St. Louis) with similar complex commuting patterns.
The Vice President and Senior Regional Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland‘s Cincinnati Branch, LaVaughn Henry, says that the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area continues to show positive signs in recovering from the Great Recession, and is moving toward a position of long-term growth.
At approximately 2% higher than its pre-recession level, Henry says that per capita GDP in the Cincinnati area is out-performing other nearby metropolitan areas, along with the rest of Ohio.
Likewise, the unemployment rate is lower in Cincinnati than other metropolitan areas nearby. It is currently 4.1%, the lowest level in a decade. However, employment is still nearly 2% below its pre-recession level in the Cincinnati region.
Henry reports that the region’s manufacturing is also growing healthily, surpassing the growth seen both nationally and state-wide. This growth, he says, reflects increased demand from the aviation and automobile sectors of the U.S. economy. These two sectors, however, only account for 4% and 10% of the metropolitan GDP, respectively.
Larger sectors like transportation and utilities, while still seeing growth, are increasing at a slower pace.
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.
Only a small piece of land between Cincinnati and Dayton remains undeveloped, and many believe that remaining gap will disappear very soon. But the merging of Cincinnati and Dayton as one large metropolitan region is only part of the story, as shared regional identities with other large urban centers throughout the Great Lakes region becomes more pervasive. This and other regions like it around the U.S. are becoming even more centralized. More from The Week:
Though the concept has existed in academia for decades, planners are now looking at these dense corridors of population, businesses, and transportation and wondering if the megaregion may, in fact, be the next step in America’s evolution. With renewed interest and investment in urban centers and the projected growth of high speed rail, megaregions could easily become home to millions more Americans.
The Northeast corridor, for example, could receive up to 18 million more residents by 2050, according to estimates from the Regional Plan Association. And the region encompassing major cities in Texas including Houston and Dallas could see a spike from roughly 12 million to 18 million people in that same time, the association says.
And where population goes, economic growth is not far behind. The Northeast corridor would be the fifth largest economy in the world, with the Great Lakes megaregion at ninth and the Southern California megaregion outpacing Indonesia, Turkey, and the Netherlands as the 18th largest, according to 2012 estimates from real estate advisory RCLCO. The problem is, there are challenges to making these networks hold together. Unlike megaregions in Europe and Asia, for example, the United States has traditionally shied away from large umbrella governing organizations which surpass state borders.
The Cincinnati metropolitan area is recovering at a rate equal to that of the nation, and production, income, and GDP are all up in the area. LaVaughn Henry, vice president and senior regional officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Cincinnati Branch, cited the area’s diversified economy as one reason for robust growth.
More specifically, the Fed pointed to Cincinnati’s large employment percentages in the consumer marketing field as a reason for its success. As the nation continues to recover and consumer confidence and consumption rise, Cincinnati is poised to benefit at a greater rate than other metropolitan areas.
Further bolstering the region’s growth are the construction and manufacturing sectors, having grown 7% and 4% over the last year, respectively. Healthcare and education are also growing, while the area’s business and professional sectors are lagging behind national averages.
Overall Cincinnati’s performance seems to be mirroring that of the nation, with high growth in manufacturing and construction, stagnant growth in government, and large drops in the information sector.
The region’s employment rate now stands at 4.5%, nearly a point lower than the national average and the lowest level in 10 years. The average Cincinnatian is seeing the fruits of this economic growth, with wages growing faster than the rest of Ohio and other nearby metros. Henry says that wages are poised to reach an average of $840 a week – a level not seen since 2007.
The region, however, has not yet managed to reach pre-Recession employment levels. This is in line with the national trend, although behind local metropolitan areas.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland also cited recent announcements from companies planning major job expansions as reason for continued optimism that the area’s employment growth will continue. While the local housing market has seen sluggish growth, the Henry says that shrinking housing supply and increased construction will strengthen the sector.