The vitality of a region’s economy depends on its ability to connect people to good jobs and connect firms to workers with the appropriate skill set. Spatially—on both these counts—Northeast Ohio is falling short relative to other regions in the U.S. and relative to its potential to be globally competitive. Since the end of the recession in 2009, the Northeast Ohio economy has been gearing up for the future—undergoing a transition that’s about new products, new companies, new industries, and new opportunities. The region has countless assets on which to build. Jobs are coming back. But Northeast Ohio still isn’t creating enough good jobs, and the jobs are more dispersed and harder to reach.
In this slow-growth context, spatial dimensions of job growth often get overlooked. Emphasis is naturally placed on job development strate-gies, without considering factors such as the quality, location and accessibility of those jobs (Garr Pacetti 2013). If the disconnect between where jobs are and where people who need jobs live perpetuates, especially in an environment of stagnant population, Northeast Ohio won’t be able to sustain its nascent recovery.
Issues of sprawl and spatial access to jobs are not new problems. But the conversation about the “geography of jobs” is still largely absent in business development discussions and/or seldom makes the list of top civic priorities. Job access may be the most important issue no one is talking about. That needs to change.
As jobs in Northeast Ohio climb back to pre-recession levels, understanding job growth patterns is critical to avoiding the pitfalls of promoting isolated pockets of limited growth. Particularly if the region’s population remains flat, the focus should be on investing strategically in Northeast Ohio’s existing infrastructure and assets to ensure its long-term economic competitiveness in the global economy.
Given the urgency of this issue, and to jump-start the conversation, the Fund for Our Economic Future (the Fund) took a closer look at what’s happening to job access in Northeast Ohio. This briefing paper synthesizes evidence on where jobs are located in the region, who has access to them, and how current trends may affect future growth. The evidence is drawn primarily from the most recent research available at the local level, and is supplement-ed by original, region-wide analysis where appropriate. The main findings from this exercise are:
1.) Job growth over the past 20 years occurred predominantly in suburbs and the conversion of rural areas, continuing a long-term trend since the 1950s.
2.) Outward job growth affects all Northeast Ohio residents regardless of where they live.
3.) Outward job growth disproportionately affects residents who need jobs the most, particularly the 200,000 residents living in the region’s economically distressed neighborhoods.
Ultimately, the goal of this paper is to bring the issue of spatial access to jobs to the fore and equip decision makers with the data to make smart job development decisions now and in the future.