Wages lag in Clark County despite other economic improvements

Clark County residents will get a chance on Monday to share their opinion on how to improve the local economy. Bill Lackey/Staff

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Clark County residents will get a chance on Monday to share their opinion on how to improve the local economy. Bill Lackey/Staff

Springfield has secured promises of hundreds of new jobs and seen significant investments in the past few years, but there are still reasons for concern that the region’s economy has not fully recovered from the Great Recession.

Recent figures released from the U.S. Census Bureau indicated Clark County’s median income actually slid from about $47,808 in 2016 to $46,665 last year, a decline of about 2.4 percent. That’s also well below the state’s median income of $54,021 last year.

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The figures include a wide margin of error, but they do show median income has not fully recovered from the recession, said Bill LaFayette, owner of Regionomics, a Columbus-based economics and workforce consulting firm. It also shows generally that Clark County has faced a tougher recovery than some other portions of the state and the U.S.

“Generally the median income is lower than it is statewide and it’s definately lower than nationally,” LaFayette said of Clark State’s figures.

But the county has made significant progress in the decade since the recession, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Chamber of Greater Springfield. He pointed to new jobs at manufacturing firms like Topre America Corp. and Silfex, which have pledged to invest millions into the region’s economy and create hundreds of new jobs over the next several years.

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He also said the city and chamber have changed their strategy in recent years to focus more on attracting companies that offer higher pay than the region’s average. That work is beginning to pay off, although the results might not show up immediately, he said.

“It’s going to take time for us to catch up but I like our chances because the strategy we have is focused on attracting companies that offer higher wages,” Hobbs said.

The state’s economy will play a prominent role in a narrow race this fall between Mike DeWine, a Republican candidate for governor and Rich Cordray, his Democratic opponent. On Monday, a collaboration of several media outlets called Your Voice Ohio will host a forum in Springfield, allowing area residents to offer possible solutions on the challenges the region is facing. Similar meetings are scheduled this month in Dayton, Columbus and Lima.

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Springfield’s meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Clark State Community College’s Leffel Lane Campus. The organization hosted similar forums last year focused on the state’s opioid crisis.

The News-Sun reported earlier this year that many of Ohio's smaller and midsize cities have faced a tougher road to recovery than larger cities like Cincinnati and Columbus since the recession. Clark County also was not alone in seeing its median household income slide between 2016 and 2017.

Median income fell more than 14 percent in Columbiana County and nearly six percent in Lake County from 2016 to 2016, according to information from the U.S. Census bureau.

Growth bypassing Ohio’s smaller cities

The Greater Ohio Policy Center published a report earlier this year arguing for new policies to provide cities like Springfield, Lima and Mansfield with more tools to revive their economies. The organization is a nonprofit that pushes for policies that benefit the state’s urban areas.

There has been a solid, slow recovery in places like Springfield, said Alison Goebel, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center. But she said there’s a concern if another recession occurs in the next few years, it could further slow any progress smaller and midsize cities in the state have made.

READ MORE: Clark County jobs: Unemployment hits 17-year low

“I don’t think we’d totally backslide,” Goebel said. “But a recession would make it harder for these places to get back on a solid footing.”

In 2016, a report from the Pew Research Center argued Springfield tied Goldsboro, N.C. for the biggest decline in economic status since 2000.

The Pew study showed in Springfield, median household income plunged 27 percent from 2000 to 2014, the greatest loss cited in the Pew report. It dropped from $73,895 in 1999 to $53,957 in 2014. About 61 percent of Springfield’s population was considered middle-class in 2000, according to the Pew study. By 2014, that percentage fell to 55 percent.

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Considering the county started at that low point, Hobbs said the progress the county has made is more impressive, even if the recovery isn’t yet complete. The area has seen enough job growth and investment that developers are moving ahead with a new housing development in Springfield for the first time since the 1990s.

“Is that going to catch up immediately?” Hobbs said. “No. We’ve been behind the state average for some time and it’s going to take a while to rebound from it.”

The state has seen in economic recovery since the recession, Goebel said. But growth in larger cities like Columbus has made the state’s recovery look better than the reality. One of the challenges in the recovery is that large cities with more large companies and financial resources have generally fared much better than their smaller neighbors.

The challenge facing Springfield isn’t unemployment, said Warren Copeland, Springfield’s mayor. Instead, he said, it’s underemployment in which residents face lower wages because they don’t have the necessary skills to find higher-paying jobs. Copeland said the city needs to continue to work closely with partners like Clark State Community College and local school districts to support their efforts to train the region’s future workforce.

Copeland said it’s also important not to forget local workers who have already graduated but could potentially receive better jobs with the right training.

“The bigger challenge we face is how do we help the folks who at best have a high school diploma, and others who don’t even have a high school diploma,” Copeland said.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center’s report argued state leaders need to take a more proactive approach to help the state’s smaller municipalities catch up. That could include providing more funding to redevelop abandoned industrial sites and developing subsidies or other incentives to encourage market-rate housing in key neighborhhods.

“The state has taken a very agnostic policy position,” Goebel said. “It rewards those who are already doing pretty OK because they were already in a more positive position to begin with.”

An issue in November

The state's economy and wage growth is expected to play a role in a closely contested race for governor in November. Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine met for their first debate of the election season in Dayton Wednesday night. The Dayton Daily News reported one of the key questionas asked focused on whether the state should be doing more to help Ohio's urban areas rebuild.

Joshua Eck, a spokesman for DeWine’s campaign, told the News-Sun the state has made progress in creating jobs but is now seeing employers who can’t fill openings because of a lack of qualified workers. He said DeWine’s focus will be on better preparing workers with the skills they need to match jobs in growing industries.

“Mike DeWine is also committed to working with our schools to ensure that every student graduates high school either college-ready or on a pathway to a good career so that young people can be more quickly prepared for the workforce,” Eck said. “Mike DeWine believes that JobsOhio has been a great achievement of the Kasich Administration. As governor, he will ensure that JobsOhio is properly serving rural and urban communities alike so that no part of the state is left behind.”

Cordray told the News-Sun his policies would focus on improving infrastructure and reversing state cuts to local government funds to provide more resources to cities like Springfield.

“My administration will work to keep health care costs down to put more money in the pockets of middle class families, and we’ll make crucial investments in infrastructure, workforce development, and our small businesses to spread out economic opportunity around the state,” Cordray said. “In addition, we’ll reverse the cuts to local government funding that has made it so difficult for communities around Ohio to keep property taxes down, grow the economy, maintain basic services, and tackle critical challenges like the opioid epidemic.”

The Springfield News-Sun will continue to provide unmatched coverage of economic development in Clark and Champaign Counties. For this story, the paper spoke to a state non-profit and economic development officials from Ohio cities to discuss the challenges facing Springfield’s economy.

By the numbers:

$47,818 — Median income 2016

$46,665 — Median income in 2017

-2.4 percent — Change in median income

Source: Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2016-2017)

If you go:

What: Your Voice Ohio Community meeting

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24

Where: Clark State Community College, Leffel Lane Campus, LRC 207/209 5709 E. Leffel Lane, Springfield

On the web: https://yourvoiceohio.org/

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