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Guess Who's Not Coming

By Gregory Flannery · September 14th, 2005 · All The News That Fits
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Hyperconscious of its image, Cincinnati gloms onto magazine surveys enumerating its ranking among the country's most livable cities, the best cities for singles and other faux-statistical indicators of greatness.

But while studies showing the city and Hamilton County losing population have become fodder for political candidates, jealously pointing to the building boom in nearby West Chester, the larger reality appears to be even worse. A study by demographic researcher Gary Wright finds the entire Cincinnati-Middletown metropolitan statistical area (MSA) -- a 15-county region of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana -- exhibiting signs of decline.

Wright's study, presented last week to the ironically named Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce, shows that people from elsewhere in the United States aren't moving here.

"The Cincinnati region as a whole is actually losing population to other parts of the country, as more people move out of the region than move into it from elsewhere in the nation. While there has been a lot of redistribution of population within the region, there has been very little net growth. The region has not been successful in attracting new residents from elsewhere in the country," the study says.

It seems members of the creative class -- a trendy but usually ill-defined term -- are not only choosing to live and build their careers elsewhere; even more troubling, those born and raised here are fleeing when they get the chance.

"In the late 1990s, Cincinnati suffered a net loss of young, college-educated singles, one of the groups most able and willing to vote with their feet," the study says.

Even foreign immigrants account for a much smaller part of the region's newcomers than elsewhere in the country, according to Wright. Hyperconscious of its image, Cincinnati gloms onto magazine surveys enumerating its ranking among the country's most livable cities, the best cities for singles and other faux-statistical indicators of greatness.

But while studies showing the city and Hamilton County losing population have become fodder for political candidates, jealously pointing to the building boom in nearby West Chester, the larger reality appears to be even worse. A study by demographic researcher Gary Wright finds the entire Cincinnati-Middletown metropolitan statistical area (MSA) -- a 15-county region of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana -- exhibiting signs of decline.

Wright's study, presented last week to the ironically named Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce, shows that people from elsewhere in the United States aren't moving here.

"The Cincinnati region as a whole is actually losing population to other parts of the country, as more people move out of the region than move into it from elsewhere in the nation. ... While there has been a lot of redistribution of population within the region, there has been very little net growth. The region has not been successful in attracting new residents from elsewhere in the country," the study says.

It seems members of the creative class -- a trendy but usually ill-defined term -- are not only choosing to live and build their careers elsewhere; even more troubling, those born and raised here are fleeing when they get the chance.

"In the late 1990s, Cincinnati suffered a net loss of young, college-educated singles, one of the groups most able and willing to vote with their feet," the study says.

Even foreign immigrants account for a much smaller part of the region's newcomers than elsewhere in the country, according to Wright.

"Immigration to the U.S. represents over 40 percent of total population growth in 2004," he wrote. "It is far below that level in our region."

Perhaps best known for leading the successful campaign to repeal an anti-gay provision in the Cincinnati City Charter last year, Wright says his study leads to several conclusions:

· Redistribution of population within the region strains government financing, highways and schools. Addressing those issues should be a priority, he says.

· Regional growth policies cannot neglect Hamilton County and the urban core. That's not a political axiom, but rather an opportunity. Many of those who do move to the region don't choose the booming suburbs.

"New migrants to the region ... are continuing to move to Hamilton County, suggesting that they are seeking something different in a first residence in the area than those who have lived here for some time and are relocating," the study says. "It is likely these new residents of the region are younger, single and better educated, so that the attractiveness of our urban core remains critical to the overall growth and prosperity of the entire region."

· We must raise education levels overall.

· Quit thinking in terms of jurisdictional boundaries. In the long term, the exodus from the city of Cincinnati doesn't benefit the nearby suburbs to which so many move.

"We need to increasingly consider how the decisions separate governments are making affect the entire region," the study says. "The overall economy of the region should be the top priority for policy makers. Policies to create or retain jobs anywhere in the region can and should be evaluated against their impact on the entire region. If the regional economy overall is not growing fast enough to raise all boats, we surely do not benefit from policies in one part of the region that sink boats in another."



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