Thousands of Ohioans still travel long distances to work

Wendi Boggs, 48, spends two hours or more each workday traveling between her home in Enon and her job in Columbus.

The drive is long and boring. Bad weather and traffic accidents can make the drive take even longer.

But Boggs is one of many Ohioans who are willing to endure a long commute because it is necessary to have the job and life they desire.

More Ohioans are crossing county and state lines for work, because of the tight labor market and better economic opportunities in other areas. Long commutes also are becoming more common because of shifting demographic and geographic trends.

“New technology has redefined metropolitan areas, and metropolitan areas are no longer cities and their suburbs,” said Myron Levine, a professor with Wright State University’s Department of Urban Affairs and Geography. “People are interconnected over much greater distances as a result of transportation and new technology, which means you can often network at home and not be in the office everyday.”

Most workers in Ohio spend less than 25 minutes traveling to work.

But 243,812 Ohioans spend at least one hour commuting one-way to work, which includes about 28,726 workers in Butler, Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties, according to the Census data.

About one-third of local residents work outside of the counties where they live, and those numbers are growing, giving rise to longer commutes, the data indicate.

The long road

Data was not available for all local counties. About 4.9 percent of Ohio workers who do not work at home spend at least an hour commuting each way to work.

Long commutes often are necessary to find good-paying jobs, and Ohioans who work far from home usually have financial motivations for making the long trips.

Boggs, the Enon resident, worked as a contractor Wright-Patterson Air Force Base until she accepted a job in 2001 as a project manager with the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.

Boggs owns a 1996 Camry she purchased in 1999 with 19,000 miles on it. Her long commute is mostly responsible for the nearly 400,000 miles presently on her odometer.

Boggs said she likes the lifestyle and affordability of this region, but she could not find the type of employment she wanted locally. She said Columbus has a larger and stronger job market, but she would never move there because of the capital’s congestion, cost of living and atmosphere.

“It’s just a different lifestyle in Columbus, and I prefer it where we live,” she said.

Enon is located along Interstate 70, between Fairborn and Springfield. The village is just south of the highway that leads to Columbus.

The areas separating Dayton from Columbus and Cincinnati that are located along the Interstate are attracting residential and commercial development, which has helped create a new “megapolitan area,” said Levine, the Wright State professor.

Megapolitan areas are multiple metropolitan areas that are linked by geography, and together they act as one giant region and economy.

Some Dayton residents work in Columbus and Cincinnati, and vice versa. Some people live in small cities and villages and townships outside of these urban areas, but work in the cities. Some married partners live between two major urban areas, and the spouses each work in different markets. Technology allows workers to telecommute when they are unable to physically make it to the office.

“The areas between metropolitan areas no longer are as rural or distant as they once were, because you are connected via the Web and the highway,” Levine said. “For a two-earner couple, a great place to live would be between Cincinnati and Dayton.”

Cost to commute

Part of the appeal to employers to locate in southwest Ohio is that they can pull talent from three major cities and numerous smaller cities, villages and townships.

Experts said Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus increasingly will develop into a single region, and job-seekers should take this into account. Worker flexibility is useful in the new economy, because the chances of finding a job improves when people are willing to work in multiple markets.

And the benefits to workers often include a higher quality of life. People can live in areas with lower housing and living costs and work in areas with higher pay and better labor markets.

“You could live in a mansion in the core of Dayton or the suburban and exurban areas, instead of being crammed into a little townhouse or garden apartment for what you pay in Columbus or the better suburbs of Cincinnati,” Levine said.

But working far from home has drawbacks, including rising transportation costs and creating additional stress for families. Juggling child care responsibilities can be headache. Workers with long commutes have a harder time attending their children’s recitals, sports games and other family events.

“The employment opportunities are better in Columbus,” Boggs said. “I would encourage people who are having a hard time finding work to consider the commute, as long as you an offset it with a decent enough salary to afford the gas and maintenance on your car.”

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