The 2020 U.S. Census is underway. And when the results of the federal government’s latest 10-year population survey come back, we could finally see an important development for the Cincinnati-Dayton corridor that’s been anticipated and talked about for at least the last two decades: the official combination of the two urban centers into a single Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA. (Think Dallas-Fort Worth, or Minneapolis-St. Paul.)
As a real estate, construction and development firm that has extensive property holdings along the corridor, and has been proud to play a significant role in the business growth that has seen the two cities expanding toward each other along I-75, we here at the Schueler Group of Companies can’t help but follow this issue with interest.
The general consensus seems to be that designation of a new Dayton-Cincinnati metro area by the U.S. Office of Budget and Management – a change that would require certain benchmarks to be hit in the forthcoming Census data – could be an important spur to the region’s further economic growth, helping the two cities compete more effectively with larger markets for jobs and development.
As recently as nine months ago, WCPO TV in Cincinnati revisited the topic in a news report that examined “Why a Cincinnati-Dayton partnership could be a regional powerhouse.”
WCPO reported that the Cincinnati metro area, taking in Northern Kentucky and southern Indiana, is ranked by the OMB as the nation’s 29th-largest, while Dayton’s metro area comes in at number 73. Combine them, and you come up with a metro of more than 3 million people – 18th biggest in the United States.
The possibility of this happening has long been the focus of hope and speculation. Back in April 2015, for example, the Journal-News in Butler County was predicting that “the two cities and their surrounding suburbs could merge over the next five years to become one metropolitan in the eyes of the federal government” – a timetable that would put it on track for the 2020 Census returns.
The OMB would be the agency to make the designation, but before it has the option to do so, certain demographic criteria have to show up in the Census, involving factors such as population growth, development patterns and social and economic exchange. One requirement is that 25 percent of residents living in central counties of one metro are commuting to work in central counties of the neighboring metro.
Will it be sooner – or later?
As one might expect, the prospect of a Queen City-Gem City merger is attractive to business and civic leaders. In a February 2017 article in Heartland Real Estate Business magazine, Richard Meder of Colliers International called combining the two metro areas “a winning strategy,” that would “make the southwest Ohio region more attractive to companies looking to locate in a large city, especially if those companies want a more affordable area than metros like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.” Others believe a higher metro ranking could help in attracting federal development dollars.
For some the question seems to be less whether the merger will happen than when. Meder, for example, suggests that based on current growth patterns “it appears to be only a matter of time before the two MSAs merge together,” but doesn’t suggest a date.
In the WCPO story Joe Hinson, president and chief executive officer of the West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance, likewise calls the merger “inevitable,” but doesn’t expecting the 2020 Census data to support it yet.
We will be anxiously awaiting the Census returns.