America's downsized cities
Ohio and Michigan dominate the list of metropolitan areas that are declining. Here's why.
Detroit ranks No. 4 on the list of downsized cities in America. © Skip Peterson / AP
In a way, it's the same old story: The Rust Belt, composed of blue-collar cities where manufacturing industries once dominated, can't seem to find a way to thrive.
Take Pittsburgh. Despite the fact that the city's steel industry began to deteriorate all the way back in the 1970s, the city is still better known for its mills than for its $10.8 billion stake in the technology and life-science sectors, including companies such as Bayer, BPL Global and Plextronics.
Same goes for Buffalo, N.Y., once a great producer of steel and automobiles. The city's bioinformatics research industry is flourishing, but, just like Pittsburgh, Buffalo is shedding population.
To be direct: If Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel or John Mellencamp has written a melancholy song about your city, it's probably on this list.
And that's the problem. General perceptions of these Rust Belt cities — that they're backward, dilapidated and cultureless — are often too harsh. And that's why, over the last decade, these areas have seen the biggest decreases in population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Reputations die hard," says Kathryn Foster, director of the University at Buffalo Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth.
The plight of these cities is double-edged. A lackluster reputation often keeps potential newcomers away, while young adults born there tend to flee because of a lack of a diverse range of opportunities. However, many of those born and bred in the area do return when it’s time to "settle down," Foster says.
Yet Sean C. Safford, a business professor at the University of Chicago and author of “Why the Garden Club Couldn't Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt,” says that it has a lot more to do with an area's business infrastructure than its "ick" factor.
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Youngstown, Ohio, for example, "had an economy that basically grew up in another era," he says. When the steel industry began its decline in the 1970s, Youngstown moved on to another failing industry: autos. The few companies that have adapted to the new economy have kept globally competitive by outsourcing, which is good for their finances but bad for Youngstown.
Behind the numbers
To determine America's downsized cities, Forbes used 2008 population estimates for the 125 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., released in March 2009 by the Census Bureau. Forbes compared those estimates with 2007 population estimates to determine the percent change year-over-year. Then we looked at the percent change in population from 2000 to 2007. Forbes combined those two rankings — weighting down the more relevant 2007-2008 percent change — for a final ranking.
While migration has slowed in general, these metro areas saw an actual decrease in population, whereas others stayed flat or continued to grow, if at a slower pace.
The state that's suffering the most is Ohio.
Topping the list is Youngstown, which, like Pittsburgh, suffered from the decline of the steel industry and never fully recovered. Dayton, Ohio, is similarly depressed: Late last year, one of its biggest employers, General Motors, shut down its plant in the city. In Toledo, Ohio, the unemployment rate is 9.8% (the national average is 8.1%), and manufacturing jobs decreased by 16% in January 2009 compared with January 2008.
And while the economy in Cleveland is diversified — from the Cleveland Clinic to NASA's Glenn Research Center to the headquarters of paint and building-supply company Sherwin-Williams — it's not viewed as a shining star of the Midwest.
But Youngstown has it the worst, seeing the biggest population declines: a 0.8% drop from 2007 to 2008 and a 5.4% decrease from 2000 to 2007. Next was Flint, Mich., with a 1.2% drop from 2007 to 2008 and a 0.3% decline from 2000 to 2007.
On the bright side
Some metro areas, like Detroit, which is ranked fourth, and Flint (both of which continue to experience devastation as the U.S. automobile industry collapses), have enough systemic problems to continually drive their populations away. But other cities on the list do possess a few oft-overlooked bright spots, indicating that negative perceptions keep new residents from coming as quickly as others leave.
In Youngstown, local officials have established the Youngstown Business Incubator, a nonprofit organization partially funded by the state government that aims to accelerate the growth rates of local tech startups.
But these positive notes can help only so much. Foster, whose job is to come up with business strategies to further develop Buffalo, says that what these areas really need is better marketing.
"When I moved to Buffalo, I carried the same misconceptions that most do. What I found was jaw-dropping" she says of the city's architecture and cultural offerings. "Efforts to market the region are so important."
But Safford says it goes further than that. "It's about competitive companies," he says. "We'd all like to think that Seattle is popular because it's cool, but come on, it's because of Amazon and Microsoft: companies that generate cash. They're not stuck in the past."
America’s top 5 downsized cities
2. Flint, Mich.
5. Dayton, Ohio
This article was written by Lauren Sherman for Forbes.
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mot: Make sure your "right brained artsy" is informed before you shoot your mouth off.
Not Into Cars: Wow, this thread is dated a couple months ago. Still, just in case you come back to shoot your own mouth off, just know that I am plenty informed. The fact is, everybody is different, and not everybody's situation is like yours. You'll need to come to grips with that fact, because you'll find it wherever you go. It's people with your attitude that make Michigan so distasteful for anyone with any creativity. Once again, just in case you misunderstood: Not everyone's family and friends are exactly like yours. Live with it, or you'll be very unhappy attempting to change people's mindsets.
So no big surprise that Ohio leads the list. But if you check out the other top ten cities on the inventory you’ll find that the photos are actually flattering – other then maybe y-town. So why this for Cleveland?
Serious, that’s the best anyone could find?
- Understand the proper usage of the word you're. It is a contraction, or a combination of the words you and are. Other examples of contractions include doesn't, they're, and can't.
- "You're a good friend." ("YOU ARE a good friend.")
- "I don't know what you're talking about." ("I don't know what YOU ARE talking about.")
- Understand the proper usage of the word your. The word your is the possessive form of you, referring to something that a person has, or something that belongs to the person in discussion [or, the person you are talking to].
- "Is your stomach growling?"
- "Your book is on the table."
- Wrong again!
mot: Make sure your "right-brained artsy" is informed before you shoot your mouth off.
Not Into Cars: My "right-brained artsy" is more informed than you seem to be, and in case you haven't noticed - nobody is using their mouths, they're using their FINGERS. They're typing on KEYBOARDS. Maybe the people YOU know, in YOUR circle of friends and family, still have jobs, but you're forgetting that you and yours are not the only ones in the state. Consider yourselves very lucky, because that's not how it is for everybody. Until you can walk a mile in someone else's shoes, don't shoot your mouth off. Or, in this case, don't shoot your FINGERS off. Keep them still until you have the facts. In this case, you don't.
I did not read one word about crippling taxes, huge government beauracracies, larger unions, and DEMOCRAT/Liberal domination.
Thanks for being biased!
Not into Cars...
I'm in Michigan.
I'm in retail. My wife is in hospitality. Most of my friends and family are in education. There are more friends and family in agriculture.
I have one and only one family member in the auto industry. The last I knew, he still had a job.
When I say friends and family members, I mean over 50 people.
Make sure your "right-brained artsy" is informed before you shoot your mouth off.
In reply to Andy_Shenyang :
Rather than critiquing the content or context, we're now deciding whether someone is worth listening to or paying attention to, simply based upon spelling, punctuation and/or grammar? I am from Ohio but live in Florida. It breaks my heart to see what is happening up north to these fine cities. It's all part of population redistribution, keep your eyes on these cities and watch to see who moves in and capitalizes on cheap real estate!
It amazes me how Ms. Sherman can expend all kinds of verbiage on describing the decline of labor-intensive industries, and its corollary effect on declining populations, but doesn't write a single word about how high taxes, unions, and government regulation have combined to destroy wealth and job-creation opportunities for the citizens of Michigan, Ohio, New York, and many other high-tax/high-regulation states. These states don't need better reputations or fancy marketing plans, they need lower taxes and less government regulation if they hope to keep their populations from voting with their feet and moving to Texas.
Seattle feels every hiccup in the Aerospace industry. And just to put Washington in it's place, Boeing moved corporate headquarters to Chicago.
What happens to Renton and Everett when Boeing moves production to Oklahoma and Alabama?
Of course, now in economic times...people flee to TX (every big city in Texas made the top 10). Is this coincidence that Texas tends towards self governing? However, Californian’s stay out! Quit ruining the great cities and state with your massive bankrupting ideas and incredibly self centered ideologies. You need to live in the mess you’re votes created.