When Seattle-based digital commerce company SMITH chose to move its firm to Austin Landing, the company’s owner said the location between Cincinnati and Dayton was good fit for employee recruiting.
Business leaders in Southwest Ohio said they are hearing this more often as Dayton and Cincinnati continue to grow closer to becoming one metropolitan area as more companies locate between the two cities.
The middle region between the two metro areas is the fastest growing part of Southwest Ohio. By 2040, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that Butler and Warren counties will have the biggest gains in population, while Montgomery County will lose the most residents compared to its neighbors
It’s not clear how close the Cincinnati and Dayton metro areas are to getting the long-anticipated federal designation as one combined metro area, but in the practical sense, Southwest Ohio is increasingly behaving as one blended region.
“Will a combined (metropolitan statistical area) happen soon? We hope so. We have no idea,” said Jill P. Meyer, president and CEO of Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The U.S. Census Bureau tracks population patterns and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget makes the call on whether to combine the two areas. The next planned review of U.S. metro areas is in 2018.
The department has a complicated formula that considers how much the Cincinnati and Dayton areas act like two separate regions and how much they act like one region with common relationships, merging populations and frequent commuting between the two metros.
Meyer was among speakers at a Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce event Tuesday morning which presented U.S. Census data showing how the two areas are growing more together.
If the area became one large metro, it would make the Cincinnati-Dayton metro area the 18th largest in the U.S., just behind San Diego.
Those combined numbers matter when it comes to getting the attention of national firms that are site seeking for their next location. The location was a good fit to recruit the kind of tech talent SMITH needed, said CEO Tony Steel.
“There were many different choices, but quite honestly Austin Landing was probably the most consistent with our brand,” Steel said.
In the case of the bidding frenzy for Amazon’s second headquarters, the Seattle giant is looking for areas with a large population it can attract talent from and plenty of universities to recruit from.
If the Dayton and Cincinnati areas were measured together and behave as one region, that’s more potential employees and university grads that a company can recruit, which is a key criteria that Meyer said she hears when companies are looking for a location.
“It is talent, talent, talent. They need more. They need more than they are going to find in either one of our areas,” Meyer said.
Dave Dickerson, Dayton market president of Miller-Valentine Group, said recently that the companies his real estate firm works with are attracted to having a central location south of Dayton or north of Cincinnati that allows them recruit from both areas.
“Companies are making their decisions based on talent attraction,” he said.
A combined metro would come with benefits, but the possibility doesn’t come without some real concerns, including the region losing some of its individual identity or lose some of its media coverage if the media markets combined, said Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“But are there some opportunities for workforce development, for business growth? I believe the answer is yes,” Parker said.
Meyer said the combined metro area shouldn’t mean Cincinnati and Dayton losing their individual identities, but getting more economic opportunities, including in bids for funding. She pointed to in 2014 when the two areas combined to get the federal designation of the Southwest Ohio & Northern Kentucky Aerospace Region to help get additional consideration when organizations in the region apply for federal grants.
“The way I look at it is we all gain opportunities to have more for our individual identities,” she said.
The shift in demographics is already happening. In Southwest Ohio, Montgomery County lost about 5,000 residents, or 1 percent of its population, since 2010.
At the same time, Warren County saw the biggest gains in the region, with its population growing 6.3 percent or by about 13,500 residents.
Couples are living in the middle with one commuting north and another commuting south, and businesses set up between the two cities so they can draw talent from either metro, making lines not as distinct as they were 20 years ago, said Meyer.
As the residents move to the middle of Dayton and Cincinnati, development in the center follows. There’s been a surge in construction in new shops, restaurants, doctors offices and homes in communities in the middle like Liberty Twp. and West Chester Twp.
Joe Hinson, president and CEO of the West Chester - Liberty Chamber Alliance, said from the chamber’s vantage point, the combining metro area is good both from attracting growth from regional employers, as well as putting the region on the map nationally.
Using the health care sector as an example, Hinson said West Chester and Liberty townships have had a rising number of hospitals expanding into the middle area to be where the residents are at. But its also important for the health care industry for the region to have appeal on a national scale to attract talent like surgeons who are searching nationally for where they want to work.
“We’re looking at ways to become more regional, less parochial. I think all those things bode well when your looking to attract and retain businesses to the area,” he said.