Devolpment Group Cautiously Optimist About Growth

Aug 14, 2012

Ohio has fared better than many states during the recent recession, and a new report released this week shows Central Ohio adding jobs at an accelerated pace.

Columbus 2020's second quarter update indicates the 11-county region posted an additional 7,600 jobs in the quarter ending in July, and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7%, compared to 7.2% for the state, and 8.2% for the nation as a whole.  The public-private development agency's chief economic analyst Kenny McDonald tells Alison Holm it's a cautiously positive report.

McDonald: Existing companies are expanding, and looking to add plants and equipment.  And new companies continue to look at our region to add new jobs. And we're seeing some really positive signs there. At the same time, we're also seeing a lot of uneasiness, and a difficulty getting people to make the final commitments.  So, while people are investigating opportunities and are well positioned for those opportunities, we still see people hedging their bets a little bit, and a lot of factors are playing into that.

How do you interpret that hesitancy?

McDonald: Because it's an election year, that does have an impact I think on certain industries.  They're looking and waiting to see how things play out.  I think that the bigger thing for us is that, because of the downturn 4 or 5 years ago, you've got a lot of people who now... when they make decisions, proceed very slowly and very cautiously.  And that may be something that we continue to see.

Looking at the employment picture for the several counties in this region -- not surprisingly Delaware County is doing extremely well, but other, smaller-population counties, like Morrow and Pickaway Counties seem to be
underperforming, and scoring much lower than the national average.  When you have a smaller county like Morrow, is that simply that it is more dramatically affected by a drop in one or two businesses, or is there
something more significant going on in some of these counties?

McDonald:  I think there is a lot of truth to what you just said; any minor adjustment in a fairly sparsely populated community will look.. sort of month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter.. as if it's a large change.  What I'm excited about is that I think over all, our region compares very favorably to other regions around the country.  Other regions may have may have a healthy city, or one industry doing well, but other parts of the region are doing really bad.  And their unemployment rates are much higher than our are overall.  And while we have some minor differences across our region, you know, people are doing okay.  I still think there is a tremendous amount of caution, and there's still too many good, talented people who can't find the kind of work they want -- but things are really stable in our area.

One of the things that was considered in this update was housing prices. The Central Ohio region has not been as hard hit as places like Cleveland, but you do point out that housing prices are still trending downward in
Central Ohio.

McDonald:  It's a deep well.  May be all I can say.  You can still see the depth of the housing market trouble that we had.  And while I think they are getting better and stronger -- you see pockets of the region or even
communities doing much better -- you're seeing still overall the numbers are are depressed.  And, our local housing industry providers as well as those folks that work in construction and the housing industry overall, which is an important industry for us, continues to recover and move forward, but it's still a tough market.

Are there any particular areas, say transportation or infrastructure, that give you some concern about the region's ability to continue to grow that, to attract new businesses and support existing business?

McDonald:  I think our challenges are less than our capacity to rebuild.  So I think that if we collaborate and work together and form public-private partnerships, bring in our academic resources to the table to make sure that we're delivering  on the workforce that the new economy demands, then there really isn't any challenge that we have that we can't overcome and blow through.  There still's probably not enough demand out there. Once the demand meets the market, then we're very well positioned, if we can keep it up.  I certainly don't want to take credit for 2020; there are a lot of people and partners that make this up. Locally, the towns and cities and villages are working really hard, the State of Ohio is working extremely hard, and everybody is working together on a consistent basis. 
Kenny Mcdonald is chief economic analyst of Columbus 2020, a public-private partnership that works to develop economic growth in the 11-county Central Ohio region.  The groups second quarter economic development update is available on their website, at