This year the federal government defines and re-defines metropolitan statistical areas for census purposes — and area business and government leaders said it’s possible the feds will unite Dayton and Cincinnati into a single, newly minted MSA.
The edges of the two cities have been drawing closer and increasingly, people who live in Dayton’s south suburbs work in Cincinnati or its northern environs.
“Maybe there will be a single MSA in the next Census,” said Steve Stanley, executive director of the Montgomery County Transportation Improvement District. “If not, it will happen in the near future.”
The idea has been discussed for years and was a driving force in the creation of the Austin Boulevard-Interstate 75 interchange in the past decade, Stanley said. Between Austin Landing and Cincinnati’s northern edges are only about 20 miles.
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Joe Hinson, president and chief executive of the West Chester-Liberty Chamber Alliance, said it’s a good idea for the region.
“It has been proven that the economic impact from merging other MSAs across the country has been positive and long lasting,” Hinson said. “We would rank as the largest MSA in Ohio and 18th largest MSA in the U.S. right behind San Diego-Carlsbad.”
Such an MSA redefinition would “probably” be a good thing for Dayton, Stanley said. A newly created Dayton-Cincinnati MSA would consist of about 3 million people, slightly larger than the Tampa-St. Petersburg MSA in Florida.
A Dayton-Cincinnati MSA would get more recognition and would rise on population rankings, Stanley told a Small Business Resource Rally audience Thursday at the Miami Twp. library branch.
Today, the cities are in separate MSAs.
The Dayton MSA consists of more than 800,000 residents in Montgomery, Greene and Miami Counties while the Cincinnati “Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana” MSA has some 2.16 million residents in Butler, Warren, Hamilton, Clermont and Brown counties, with counties in Northern Kentucky and parts of Southeastern Indiana.
The Dayton MSA has a median household income of $51,427 and a poverty rate of 16.1 percent, according to Data USA, a web site that tracks Census data.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s MSA has a median household income of $60,260 and a poverty rate of 12.6 percent.
Doug Harnish, principal of Dayton market analysis firm Market Metrics, noted that the Cincinnati MSA has more executives and more highly paid professional athletes.
In fact, the Dayton area has lost much of what was once its corporate presence, Harnish said.
“We have become the ‘GEM city’ because our drivers are government, education and medicine,” he said.
What will drive the Census to bring Dayton and Cincinnati together? Employment, Stanley said. He estimated that maybe some 30 percent of Springboro residents are employed in the Cincinnati area.
“We have an extraordinarily large number of people … who commute to Northern Cincinnati and vice versa,” Stanley said.
Harnish said the Cincinnati area’s growth engine is Warren County.
From 2017 to 2022, Warren is projected to see 9,467 new households — much higher than the 2,362 new households projected for Hamilton County and the 3,276 new households projected for Montgomery County, according to Harnish’s data.
“Warren County is much more dynamic than Hamilton County,” he said. “Note that Warren County is projected to contribute approximately 25 percent of the new household growth for the Cincinnati metro between 2017 and 2022.”
Would Cincinnati find such a union desirable?
Jennifer Ekey, economic development director for the city of Middletown, said that from an economic development standpoint, an MSA merger would be “a very good thing.”
“Since Middletown lies in the center of that metroplex, the advantage for the city is that we are able to present data points the reflect the combined MSA,” Ekey said. “This helps with everything from grant applications to attracting and retaining employers and workforce. It solidifies the southwest Ohio region and presents a greater opportunity for collaboration.”
Christopher Auffrey, a professor of urban planning at the University of the Cincinnati, said he doesn’t think there would be a lot of concern in Cincy. He agreed that Dayton has lower median income and higher poverty compared to Cincinnati.
“Cincinnati already has its own issues, in terms of child poverty, and we’re a very segregated city, as Dayton is, as well,” Auffrey said. “I suppose with certain groups, that may be an issue. But it may also be an opportunity.”
“It could certainly be beneficial to Dayton,” he added. It would help Dayton market itself to international firms and give it additional population heft, he said.
Politically, it doesn’t mean anything in terms of merging jurisdictional boundaries, he added. And citizens may not notice much difference.
“It probably wouldn’t be a big deal in terms of affecting everyday life immediately, but there may be a small incremental impact that over time could be to our benefit,” Auffrey said.
A message seeking comment was sent to Census Bureau media representatives.
Staff Writer Eric Schwartzberg contributed to this story.
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