This week, The Brookings Institute published a study called “The State of Metropolitan America.” The premise of the study is that we can no longer define metropolitan areas in the same general terms used in the 80s and 90s because the demographic trends of the 2000s have reshaped the character of metropolises in America. The report is grounded with the premise that population growth is an important “barometer of economic and societal well being.”
The study generally categorizes cities into the new terminology that reflects the demographics, such as “Mid-sized magnets” and “Skilled anchors” instead of “Sunbelt” or “Rustbelt” cities. One of the buckets is called “Industrialized Core” and represents the slow growing, less diverse, older and less educated cities that are “disadvantaged.” The Dayton, Ohio region is lumped into this category with 17 other cities, including our standard Ohio and Michigan counterparts of Toledo, Youngstown, Cleveland, Grand Rapids and Detroit. The study compares statistics from 1990-2000 and 2000-2009, focusing on population trends, including growth/decline, shifts between cities and suburbs, and diversity of population, as well as household growth/decline. Dayton ranked in the lowest 10% for every statistic cited in the study, except of course the statistic about the greatest rate of decline in under age 45 population, in which we scored in the top 10. The study specifically highlighted our significant loss of households in the “married with children” category – declining over 16% in the last 8 years. This statistic is key data to defining our regional strategy since it skews the population age for the next generation.
Our regional strategy builds on our position in the defense industry and the region’s roots in aerospace technology and manufacturing. We are focused on four strategic growth areas: Aerospace R&D, Information Technology, Advanced Materials & Manufacturing, and Human Sciences/Healthcare. The key points of our strategy focus on a highly educated workforce with our pillar community educational institutions (universities and hospitals) leading the way to differentiate our region.
This focus steers us toward the more palatable characterization of “skilled anchor” metropolis with other post-manufacturing Midwestern cities such as Akron, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. This type of city is characterized as slow growing, having a less diverse population, and higher than average education levels. The anchors specified are service centric – such as hospitals and educational institutions. The “skilled anchor” cities are distinct from “Industrialized Core” cities economically but share the challenges of primary growth in lower density suburban areas/decentralization and an aging workforce/growing senior population comparative to other age groups.
The conclusion of the study suggests that regional collaboration is critical within the new demographic realities. It is not clear if the new characterizations of the metropolitan areas will remain true through the rapid transformations of the coming decades, but the study points out very clearly that the response to changing demographics must be shared across local dividing lines for the region to sustain its unique identity and growth rate.
Without regional collaboration, the “Industrial Core” cities will not transition, ultimately being usurped in the list of top 100 metropolitan areas by smaller cities with higher population growth due to immigration and emigration from the likes of Dayton. The Dayton region must be a cohesive voice representing the metropolitan area to the state; and local leaders must forge new solutions to tackle the challenges of fiscal crises, outdated infrastructure and lacking capacity to extend needed community services.
Dayton’s leaders are making visible strides to position our region as a hub for aerospace technology and a service centric, highly educated, knowledge based economy. While the vision is sound and is being realized incrementally, three primary questions remain un-answered on how we move toward regional growth rather than continue on the decline.
- What is the approach for the Dayton region to position ourselves more competitively based on the pending merger with the Cincinnati statistical MSA?
- How do we plan to more cohesively address economic development opportunities with a regional voice, enabling us to successfully execute our planned strategy?
- Are we ensuring that the human capital of the region fits with the strategic plan for growth? There seems to be a gap in the required education, skill set and age demographics for a service and knowledge based economy with a declining population under the age of 45.
What will Dayton’s story be 10 years from now when population and growth charts for the coming decade are analyzed? Are we going to trend toward population growth? Continue to be considered a beleaguered region mired in population loss? Or will we allow ourselves to lose our identity entirely to become part of greater Cincinnati? The answers to those questions will come when we begin to measure our success as a region/metropolis (household income, employment and population) instead of individual cities and towns. The clock is ticking and the decade is already 5% gone. We know what we want to be as a region, but we need to start taking action now to make it a reality.
Look for more in this series about Regionalism in Dayton coming soon…
For more DMM conversations on Regionalism, check out the discussion on the DMM Forum.