Category Archives: Education

Ohio and the Fate of the "Big Eight"

The 2010 Census produced mixed results for America’s “legacy cities,” that is deindustrialized cities located primarily, but not exclusively, in the Midwest and in the Mid-Atlantic states. While east coast cities like Newark and Philadelphia actually posted population gains, Midwestern Rust Belt cities generally continued their long slide down in terms of population growth. This proved especially true in the state of Ohio, formerly a key manufacturing hub and once arguably the heartland of Industrial North America. For not only have Ohio’s major cities continued to shrink, their population loss actually ACCELERATED from 2000 to 2010. The same largely holds true for the shrinking counties that are home to Ohio’s seven withering major cities.

All of this leads to a central question: How long will it be before Ohio itself loses population? Much is at stake. Not just tax bases, representation in the house, and federal funding, but national relevance. With the decline of the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region, Ohio’s internal decay is even more of a pressing issue.

The state has been traditionally known for its “Big Eight” cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron, Dayton, Canton, and Youngstown. All of these cities, save the capital city of Columbus, owe their existence to the explosion in manufacturing in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Cleveland was an early leader in automotive production before diversifying into other manufacturing sectors as the twentieth century wore on. Youngstown was a steel center, known as “America’s Ruhr Valley.” Dayton’s manufacturing muscle grew on, among other things, automobiles, foundries, and printing plants. Toledo was also known for auto manufacturing and the glass industry.

Suburbanization in the post-war era and deindustrialization hit Ohio’s cities as hard as any in the nation. From the early 1970s to the mid 1980s, Ohio’s manufacturing employment dropped by nearly 20 percent. Simultaneously, Ohio’s metropolitan areas decentralized. Seven of the Big Eight began to crumble, albeit at various speeds. The deterioration in the economic and social fortunes of Ohio’s cities through the 1980s has been well covered in a variety of venues. What has been less mentioned is that, unlike east coast legacy cities, the decline of Ohio’s major cities accelerated from 2000 to 2010. And according to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the decline continues.

Figure one is a comparison of the change in population for seven of Ohio’s Big Eight from the 2000 to 2010 census.

Figure 1

Every one of these cities experienced a larger decline in 2010 than they did in 2000. Cleveland’s collapse is particularly shocking, as are Dayton and Youngstown’s double-digit losses. Even Akron, somewhat of a success story, experienced a surprising drop in 2010. After seeing a substantial improvement in its population numbers in 2000, the city registered its largest population decline since 1980 in the year 2010. The 2012 census estimates look equally dismal: Only one out of 15 Ohio cities with a population of over 50,000 managed not to lose residents. Two of Ohio’s cities (Cleveland and Youngstown) were among the seven fastest shrinking cities in the entire nation during that period. Youngstown was the country’s fastest shrinking city.

Counties containing a major shrinking city are on a similar path of continued contraction. With the exception of Stark and Summit in 2000, accelerated population loss has become the norm, as figure two below shows.

Figure 2

(Chart shows negative population loss. Negative numbers are positive)

Lucas County, Mahoning, and Cuyahoga experienced large decreases in the period from 2000 to 2010. Cuyahoga, home to the second largest city in the state, is the fastest shrinking county in the state. Mahoning County in particular faces a troubled future. Between the middle of 2008 and the middle of 2009, Mahoning had more deaths than births. This is termed “negative natural increase.” Once a county experiences a cycle of negative natural increase, it is likely to re-enter the cycle again at some point.

The population decrease of the state’s major cities and counties is almost certainly a prelude to state population loss; a major sign is the disappearance of young people, a problem especially centered in counties housing the state’s largest cities. Cuyahoga County’s under-18 population dipped 16 percent between 2000 and 2010. In fact, Ohio’s drop in people under 18 was the third worst in the nation.

Ohio’s manufacturing employment wasn’t just hard hit during the seventies and eighties. At the beginning of the century Ohio had nearly a million manufacturing jobs. A little over a decade later just under 350,000 of those jobs remained. Manufacturing is the crucial piece of the economic puzzle in Ohio. And as the “recovery” begins to pick up steam, especially for automobile production and pipe production for energy exploration, manufacturing will continue to be a centerpiece of the state domestic product. However, it’s unlikely job growth will ever return to the numbers seen in the nineties, much less the seventies. Also present is a significant skills gap, particularly in distressed urban communities, between what modern manufacturing employers are demanding and what job seekers possess. Lost manufacturing jobs are particularly troubling considering that average compensation in manufacturing for the year 2009 was nearly $68,000, while non-farm, non-manufacturing sectors averaged only about $42,000.

As important as the decline in manufacturing jobs is for the state, there are other negative long-term indicators. According to the Brookings Institute, “Ohio underperformed the national average on employment in every industry from 2000 to 2008. Ohio’s shrinking industries are declining faster than its growing industries are gaining ground.” There have been bright spots, like the creation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown or the Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland-a green worker co-op that’s part of a highly innovative “Cleveland Model.” The model partners community co-ops and anchor institutions (like universities and hospitals) with a large local footprint that could utilize services in their surrounding communities. Still, it’s unclear how long these initiatives will take to have a measurable impact. And time is not on the side of the “Big Seven.”

The term Big Seven denotes the absence of the capital city of Columbus. Unlike the others, Columbus has seemingly prospered while urban flight and deindustrialization ate away at her brethren. Columbus’ diversified economy traditionally buffered it from the extremely cyclical nature of Ohio’s manufacturing cities. And while sprawl devastated other cities in the state, Columbus annexed outlying areas, withholding the extension of water lines to areas that might resist incorporation into the city. Annexation disguises the low-density nature of the city. The urban core of Columbus has been hit hard by foreclosure and disinvestment. The near east side and south side are also experiencing disinvestment, yet, Columbus is drawing people from all over Ohio. It is the only one of the Big Eight with a growing population.

Franklin County, however, which Columbus dominates, has a child poverty rate of almost 27 percent.[vii] For several years child poverty in Ohio has eclipsed the national average; approximately one in four children live in poverty. Black child poverty in Ohio is three times higher than all other child poverty. The percentage of black children living in poverty in Ohio’s Big Eight is much higher than the state average. In 2003, over 40 percent of black children in Youngstown, Toledo, Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Canton lived below the poverty line. In 2011, that number was over 50 percent in Toledo and around 56 percent in Youngstown.

Ohio is now very likely to join Michigan as the only other state in the union to have lost population. While recent census estimates show a very slight uptick in growth, long-term trends are more than enough to reverse this. Overall population growth is trending in the wrong direction. Ohio’s metropolitan areas are no closer to resolving long-standing conflicts between city and suburb; instead, shrinking counties are home to a polyglot of municipalities fighting over ever-decreasing economic pies. The federal government has long been an absentee voice in the realm of urban issues, so what is being done at the state level? States have toolboxes that can hinder or help cities. Ohio’s poor record on fostering municipal cooperation, encouraging sprawl and green field development, as well as failing to invest in twenty first century transportation infrastructure, is more than discouraging-it’s akin to promoting spatial suicide. Since Ohio’s 2005 tax cut-that largely benefited top-earners-job growth in every sector has trailed the national average. From 2005 to 2009, Ohio eliminated its corporate income tax, instead establishing a “commercial activity tax” in 2010. Unfortunately corporations are multi-state enterprises and are likely to invest such tax breaks in places other than Ohio, which is apparently what happened. Since 2005, only three other states have worse job growth rates.

Ohio’s budget for 2014 and 2015 also features income tax cuts (mostly benefiting the wealthy, again) and an increase in the regressive sales tax. Tax cuts up to $250,000 for small business owners won’t add up to much of a stimulus when most small business owners make under $30,000 a year. Estate taxes, the majority of which fund local government, are now gone. Distressed cities in Ohio will likely have to enact further reductions in services, which in turn will make them even less desirable places to live.

Ohio is in crisis mode, whether the state government realizes it or not. Seven out of Ohio’s eight major cities are in various states of decline or even collapse. The economy is moribund on many levels. The decline of manufacturing employment is hurting working class families at a time when few opportunities for college graduates are driving more young people to the Sun Belt and elsewhere. As the Greater Ohio Policy Center points out, “Ohio’s seven largest metro areas are home to 71 percent of its population, 76 percent of its jobs, and 80 percent of the states’ gross domestic product.” With accelerating blight and population loss, metropolitan fragmentation, and a disconnected state government more interested in restricting access to abortion than in increasing access to education and jobs for low-income households, Ohio faces a race to the bottom of states in terms of opportunity and quality of life.

–Sean Posey

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Ten Lessons from Boulder, Colorado


View of Boulder from the Flatiron Mountains - photo by author

I had the great pleasure of visiting Boulder, Colorado for the first time over an extended weekend. As an urban planner, I was able to take away many useful lessons for Rust Belt communities from the lovely city abutting the Front Range. Granted, not every place can be set aside majestic mountains, but every community does have unique attributes.

Here are what I would quantify as the top ten. Many of these are remarkably similar to the ten lessons from European industrial cities published earlier this month.

  • Cherish, protect, enhance, and enjoy your natural surroundings, attributes, and amenities.
  • Don’t worry, be active! As one of the healthiest and most active cities in the United States, Boulder residents practice this every day.
  • Active transportation (walking, hiking, cycling, mass transit) is absolutely key to a vibrant, healthy community.
  • Design the city to be human-scaled and pedestrian friendly.
  • There is a place for cars, but not at the forefront (both in the city and on college campuses) – the University of Colorado campus is amazingly compact and is only bisected by a few streets.
  • Skyscrapers and sprawl are not necessary for a healthy community – sprawl, in particular, is the antithesis of a healthy community.
  • Create third places and amenitiesdowntown Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall (a closed street) is an amazing third place filled with people and constant activity.
  • Embrace street art, performers, and vendors – they add life and vibrancy.
  • Preserve and protect your community’s architecture and cultural heritage – they’re the only ones you’ve got!
  • People will pay the necessary premiums (taxes, fees, rent, cost of living, etc.) to live, work, and play in a well-planned, diverse, eccentric, healthy, innovative, and sustainable community.

– Rick Brown

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Six Rust Belt Economic Superstars for 2013








Published annually by Fourth Economy Consulting of Pittsburgh, the Fourth Economy Index identifies those counties that are “ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth.” The index is broken down into micro (<25,000 population) small (25,000-49,999), mid-sized (50,000-149,999), and large (150,000-499,999) counties based on population.  The following five metrics are utilized as foundations for determining future economic success:

·         Investment

·         Talent

·         Sustainability

·         Place

·         Diversity

Kalamazoo - Source:






Below is a list of the Top 10 large counties as determined by the Fourth Economy Index – six of which are Rust Belt counties (shown in bold):

  1. Durham County (Durham), North Carolina
  2. Sedgwick County (Wichita), Kansas
  3. Guilford County (Greensboro), North Carolina
  4. Linn County (Cedar Rapids), Iowa
  5. Onondaga County (Syracuse), New York
  6. Dakota County (Twin Cities), Minnesota
  7. Lehigh County (Allentown), Pennsylvania
  8. Polk County (Des Moines), Iowa
  9. Kalamazoo County (Kalamazoo), Michigan
  10. Hamilton County (Chattanooga), Tennessee

It is interesting to note that none of the Top 10 are from the New England, South Central, Rocky Mountain, or Pacific Coast states. Congratulations to all those counties that made the Top 10, particularly those from the Rust Belt.

– Rick Brown


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Urban Problem Solving in Ohio is Devoid of Larger Political Context

The other day I was browsing through Twitter and I came across a tweet about Columbus Public Schools’ reorganization, or “reinvention”; I can’t remember the exact term they were using, but I’m sure it was snappier than that.

It got me thinking. Because when I was last living in Columbus, and that was about six years ago now, they were doing the same thing. I’m pretty sure if we had a time machine and we could travel to the future of Columbus, one, six, 12 years down the line, they’d be at it again. Columbus Public Schools would be in the middle of some reinvention scheme.

It is, afterall, an urban school district in Ohio–whipping boy for the broader community. I have lived in almost every major city in Ohio and it’s the same in all of them. The urban school district is somewhere in the range between terrible and pretty bad. And all the major power brokers and thought leaders in town love to fret about it, how it will drag the whole region down (which is true!).

The problem with the way the urban schools problem is always framed, in my opinion, is that the problem is internal to the school district. Test scores are lousy. Graduation rates are concerning. The problem is that the district isn’t performing. And so they jigger with the number of schools–close some, merge some, reorganize some. They switch the leadership. Blaming the incompetence of the school board is a favorite activity of concerned suburbanites.

But nothing really changes. No Ohio urban school district is really bucking the trend, although, to be fair, Columbus and Toledo do perform somewhat better than Cleveland or Youngstown. Nevertheless, if there is a magic formula for an outstanding Ohio urban school district, none of them have yet discovered it. The search continues in perpetuity.

The problem is, of course, bigger than the individual organization of the school district. It is political and sociological. In a lot of ways, it’s purposeful. We have decided it’s okay to have failing urban school districts in Ohio. And these biannual campaigns help appease our larger societal guilt from a safe distance.

Schools in Ohio are funded by property taxes within political jurisdictions called “school districts,” which roughly correspond to different cities and towns, again demarcated by political boundaries. The result has been that the “haves” migrate to cities and school districts with expensive houses and effectively form exclusive public school systems that are well funded and all of their students, or the vast majority at least, come from the demographic groups that tend to do well in standardized tests. In Ohio, that leaves urban school districts with the leftovers.

Since the schools receive most of their money from property taxes, well off school districts have lots of resources and less well off school districts never have enough. The Ohio Supreme Court found this to be a violation of young people’s constitutional rights. But it has never been remedied.

In the four years I’ve lived here, Cleveland has been embarking on its second reinvention campaign, and I’m fully supportive. I voted for the 9+ mill tax levy because I think it’s important to our region. Also, I have an added interest because I live in Cleveland, right next to a public school. Heck, someday I might have kids and consider sending them there.

So I support and applaud Mayor Frank Jackson and schools’ CEO Eric Gordon.

But because the problem is a systemic one, and not an internal one, I’m not expecting a radical change–an improvement would be enough.

Anyway, it seems like so many of our problems in Ohio are of this nature. They are the result of poorly conceived and now entrenched political or policy frameworks. And nobody has the guts to attack the root causes of the problem–which are political in nature–and demand real, meaningful reforms. Because while these issues create all sorts of economic and social problems, there’s always a handful of “winners” and challenging their interests is seen as wholly outside of the realm of possibility.

So urban leaders play nice. We have these regular high-pitched campaigns to reform the schools or tackle vacancy or rebuild urban neighborhoods and the strategies are completely divorced of larger context. We have a neighborhood approach to urban vacancy–although the problem is very clearly caused by the larger regional forces of the housing market, combined with suburban and regional decision making.

These strategies and always ostensibly aimed at helping poor urbanites, the perennial political losers in Ohio, but I can’t help see them as another sort of reinforcement of the existing conditions. Because truly solving them would mean actually challenging the political structures that produce them–challenging power. And we’re just not willing to do that. What these campaigns actually accomplish is making large-scale failure palatable for a more few years.

Cleveland schools will host a dozen reinvention campaigns before they are through, I predict, each time offering earnest promises of true reform. But true reform can only come from the outside and that’s something the people of Ohio are clearly not prepared to accept, no matter how high the price of ignoring it is.

So the failure of Ohio’s urban school districts is okay, whatever the regional leaders say. We’ve all decided to accept that.


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Money: Rust Belt suburb is the best place to live in the USA

Carmel Center for the Performing Arts










According to September 2012 issue of Money magazine and based on a variety of socio-economic, climatic, financial, and demographic attributes, Carmel, Indiana (just north of Indianapolis) is the best place to live in the United States in 2012. Eden Prairie, Minnesota (southwest of the Twin Cities) took third place in the annual barometer. Other Rust Belt communities included in Money magazine’s Top 100 include:

#11 Woodbury, Minnesota (Twin Cities)

#12 Fishers, Indiana (Indianapolis)

#14 Eagan, Minnesota (Twin Cities)

#19 Lakeville, Minnesota (Twin Cities)

#22 Maple Grove, Minnesota (Twin Cities)

#26 Troy, Michigan (Detroit)

#37 West Bloomfield, Michigan

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#39 O’Fallon, Missouri (St. Louis)

#48 Amherst, New York (Buffalo)

#53 Naperville, Illinois (Chicago)

#61 Bolingbrook, Illinois (Chicago)

#71 St. Charles, Missouri (St. Louis)

#72 West Hartford, Connecticut (Hartford)

#76 Florissant, Missouri (St. Louis)

#78 Shelby, Michigan (Detroit)

#80 Wheaton, Illinois (Chicago)

#81 West Des Moines, Iowa (Des Moines)

#84 Macomb, Michigan (Detroit)

#85 Bensalem, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)

#88 Iowa City, Iowa

#90 Ames, Iowa (Des Moines)

#95 Millcreek, Pennsylvania (Erie)

#99 Waukesha, Wisconsin (Milwaukee)

#100 Ann Arbor, Michigan

Congratulations to all those Rust Belt communities that made the Top 100 in 2012.

– Rick Brown

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Innovation Clusters of the Rust Belt

With the recently celebrated opening of the nation’s first satellite office of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Detroit, I thought it might be fun to explore which metropolitan regions in the Rust Best are hotspots for new innovation as measured by the number of patents issued. The data provided is cumulative for the five year period of 2006 through 2010.

For Detroit and Buffalo, I also included patent data for adjacent areas in Ontario since they are a part of the metropolitan region. Needless to say, I was rather thrilled to find out which of the metropolitan regions came in first place (even without Windsor’s 376 American patents included). Buffalo’s ranking moved up two spots on the list either with the inclusion of 189 American patents from Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, Ontario.

Min 250 patents (or 50/year) between 2006-2010

  1. Detroit-Ann Arbor-Windsor, MI-ON  – 13,121
  2. Chicago-Naperville-Kenosha, IL-IN-WI – 12,526
  3. Twin Cities Region, MN-WI – 11,554
  4. Philadelphia-Trenton-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE – 10,345
  5. Rochester, NY – 5,227
  6. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, OH – 4,540
  7. Cincinnati-Hamilton-Wilmington, OH-KY-IN – 3,446
  8. Baltimore, MD – 2,950
  9. Pittsburgh, PA – 2,968
  10. Albany-Glens Falls, NY – 2,952
  11. St. Louis, MO-IL – 2,750
  12. Milwaukee-Racine, WI – 2,551
  13. Indianapolis-Anderson-Columbus, IN  – 2,423
  14. Worcester, MA – 2,037
  15. Providence-Fall River, RI-MA – 1,884
  16. Madison-Beaver Dam, WI  – 1,864
  17. Rochester, MN – 1,789
  18. Columbus-Newark-Lancaster, OH – 1,612
  19. Allentown-Bethlehem, PA-NJ – 1,404
  20. Grand Rapids-Holland-Muskegon, MI – 1,385
  21. Des Moines-Ames, IA  – 1,351
  22. Buffalo-Niagara Falls-St. Catharines, NY-ON – 1,268
  23. Lake Winnebego (Appleton-Oshkosh-Fond du Lac), WI – 1,187
  24. Dayton-Springfield, OH – 1,079
  25. Fort Wayne-Warsaw-Van Wert,  IN-OH – 894
  26. Cedar Rapids-Iowa City, IA – 881
  27. Peoria-Canton, IL – 872
  28. St. Joseph Valley (South Bend-Elkhart-Niles), IN-MI – 800
  29. Syracuse, NY – 796
  30. Lafayette-Kokomo, IN – 723
  31. Binghamton-Oneonta, NY-PA – 720
  32. Rock Valley, IL-WI – 671
  33. Harrisburg-Gettysburg, PA – 663
  34. Elmira-Corning-Sayre, NY-PA – 644
  35. Toledo- Findlay-Fremont, OH – 638
  36. Springfield, MA – 555
  37. Kalamazoo Valley, MI – 550
  38. Champaign-Urbana, IL – 523
  39. Lancaster, PA – 509
  40. Ithaca-Cortland, NY – 503
  41. Lansing-Jackson, MI – 490
  42. Saginaw Bay, MI – 448
  43. York, PA – 428
  44. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Poconos, PA  – 347
  45. Youngstown-Warren-Salem, OH-PA – 342
  46. Quad Cities, IA-IL – 309
  47. Erie, PA – 306
  48. Reading-Pottsville, PA – 301
  49. Evansville, IN-KY-IL – 293
  50. State College-Lewistown, PA – 258

– Rick Brown

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'Smartest' US Cities Have a Rusty Tint


According to a June 6, 2012 piece by Richard Florida published by The Atlantic Cities, a recent analysis by Lumosity shows that more than half of the 25 smartest cities in the United States are situated in the Rust Belt. In order to calculate the smartest metropolitan areas, the article indicates that the following research methodology was utilized:

“…scientists at Lumosity tracked the cognitive performance of more than one million users in the United States on their games, mapping them across U.S. metros using IP geolocation software. Individual scores were recorded in five key cognitive areas: memory, processing speed, flexibility, attention, and problem solving.The data was normalized into a basic brain performance index controlling for age and gender. Only metros with more than 500 observations were included. The data cover 169 metros.”

Based on the research, below is the list of America’s 25 brainiest metros, according to Lumosity’s metrics, with the city’s ranking in parentheses:

  • Lafayette, Indiana (2)
  • Madison, Wisconsin (4)
  • Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City & Dubuque, Iowa (6)
  • Johnstown-Altoona, Pennsylvania (8)
  • Champaign & Springfield-Decatur, Illinois (9)
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota/Wisconsin (10)
  • Rochester, New York (13)
  • Lansing, Michigan (16)
  • Burlington-Plattsburgh, Vermont/New York (18)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (19)
  • Syracuse, New York (20)
  • La Crosse-Eau Claire, Wisconsin (23)
  • Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York Pennsylvania (24)
  • Springfield-Holyoke, Massachusetts (25)

According to Daniel Sternberg, who developed the brain performance measure,

“The result is not driven principally by college students. “Since our analysis controlled for age, the reason they score well is not simply that they have a lot of young people,” said Sternberg. “Instead, our analysis seems to show that users living in university communities tend to perform better than users of the same age in other locations.”

An informative map (see below) prepared by the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute depicts the results of the Lumosity study graphically. It clear shows concentrated strength throughout much of the Northeast, Great Lakes, and Midwest, with other areas scoring well along the Pacific Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, the I-35 corridor of Texas, and those larger metropolitan areas of the Rocky Mountain region.


The good news that could be derived from this report is that the “brain drain” may not be quite as bad as first thought. However, this represents a snapshot over one period of time. A more reliable long-term measure will be when this data is spread out further so trends can be observed.

The results also present an excellent marketing and public relations tool for many economic development agencies in the Rust Belt. Here’s is a weblink to one such press release from Greater Lansing’s LEAP (Lansing Economic Area Partnership).

Congratulations to all those cities who scored well in this report. As a graduate of Purdue University in Greater Lafayette, Indiana and a resident of Greater Lansing, Michigan, I was very pleased to see the data show what I already knew about these two terrific cities of the Rust Belt.

More details about the report and the story itself are available at Atlantic Cities.

Rick Brown

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