Wednesday, April 6th, 2011
Ohio is a state that has been, let’s be honest here, walloped pretty hard. It’s a poster child for Rust Belt industrial decline, and frequently shows up near the bottom of the league tables along with Michigan on many measures.
But I think that Ohio is fortunate to have some structural factors from its geography that work in its favor. While clearly there are still issues to work through, longer term these might benefit an Ohio comeback.
One of them is that Ohio is on the trade routes. Many major transcontinental interstates pass through the place, along with tons of rails lines. This is a big contrast to Michigan, which is a peninsula. Other than Detroit and the trade links through Canada and its air hub, Michigan is almost always going to require a special trip. I noticed this when I drove to Grand Rapids for the first time. It’s a detour. You’re not going to pass through it unless you’re going somewhere else in Michigan. Whereas in Ohio, massive amounts of people and freight are simply passing through. All it has to do is convince some of it to stop.
Furthermore, Ohio is a state of many large cities. In addition to the “3C”s of Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, there’s also Dayton, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown, etc. Since metro areas are the driver of the new economy, it’s good to have lots of larger metros. This also gives Ohio a much more urban feel than other Midwest states. For example, contrast with Indiana. Indiana is mostly urban in population too, but because most of its metros are fairly small, it has a more rural and small town mindest. The Gary region of Indiana, the second largest urban area in the state, is about the same size as Akron, and it falls off quickly after that.
Finally, the metro areas of Ohio are diverse. Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland are radically different cities. This is a good thing. As research from CEOs for Cities and others has shown, distinctiveness is one of the keys to urban success, and Ohio has some very unique metros. Cincy is certainly one of the most unique in the country.
So while Ohio will continue to face challenges, there are actually a number of positive structural factors. It will be interesting to see how these play out over time.