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Published: Thursday, 2/23/2006

Metro Toledo ranks near last for job growth

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Fifth from the bottom.

That's how Toledo ranked in the latest national study of job growth among the 200 major metropolitan areas. The No. 196 ranking was worse than the previous report more than a year ago by the Milken Institute, a California think tank.

Toledo's showing highlights the metro area's poor job creation performance over a number of years compared to cities nationwide and demonstrates the area's weak level of adding high-technology jobs.

"Toledo's rank has been slipping repeatedly over the years," said Lorna Wallace, a research fellow at the institute and a co-author of the index released yesterday.

John Gibney, a spokesman for Toledo's Regional Growth Partnership, said economic development officials are disappointed and know efforts are necessary to diversify the local economy.

"We're not going to question the numbers because they are what they are," he said.

"The public, private, and academic sectors need to start coming together and improving the areas we're ranking low in and start moving forward as a region," he said.

Similar comments have been made by local officials in the past but results have gotten worse.

Nine of the bottom spots in the report are from Ohio and Michigan. Metro Toledo, which includes Lucas, Wood, Fulton, and Ottawa counties, ranked ahead of only Youngstown, Canton, Lansing, and Flint, Mich.

Topping the institute's index were Florida cities, which held five of the top six spots. No. 1 was Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area, near Kennedy Space Center. It has a diversified economy with aerospace and defense-related industries as well as space-related tourism and a growing number of retirees.

The report considers a number of factors, including the type of jobs being lost and gained as well as wage and salary growth for one and five-year periods, and the concentration of high-tech jobs. From those measures, the institute calculates an index.

Metro Toledo lagged national figures in all nine measures, slipping overall from No. 195 in the previous report in late 2004.

For example, Toledo was 7 percentage points below the national average on wage and salary growth from 1998 to 2003 and had the lowest reading, a 1, for high-tech industry, compared with 20 for Cambridge, Mass.

Toledo's ranking has slipped almost every year since the institute first published the report in 1999. It was No. 143 that year, No. 148 the next, then No. 166, and then No. 174. It ranked No. 195 in 2003 and 2004.

"There is constant erosion in the economy that is occurring," Ms. Wallace said, noting that Toledo is being particularly hard hit because of contraction in the manufacturing sector.

The area's economy is dependent on the automotive industry, with four Big Three automaker plants and dozens of suppliers.

A U.S. Census Bureau report last year showed that 16 northwest Ohio counties and three southeast Michigan counties collectively lost nearly 23,400 manufacturing jobs, or 13 percent, from 1998 to 2003. Lucas County alone lost 6,253 factory jobs during the period.

"Often when you have slower growth industries that experience negative growth, service jobs will kick in or high-tech jobs will kick in," Ms. Wallace said.

"But the jobs that have been created in the Toledo area have not been the kind of high-tech, high-paying, high-talent jobs being created elsewhere."

Lucas County lost 11 percent of its engineering, advertising, and other high-paying professional positions from 1998 to 2003, the Census Bureau found. Such workers were paid an average of $42,300 a year in 2003.

Businessmen on the boards of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce and the growth partnership, as well as Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, could not be reached for comment.

At least one academic leader in the Toledo area was not surprised by the Milken report.

"It's definitely disappointing," said Sonny Ariss, director of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Institute at the University of Toledo. "But the number of jobs we are losing is happening faster than the number of jobs we are creating."

The Milken study found Toledo's job growth between 1999 and 2004 was well below the national average and wage growth was worse.

Community and business leaders, Mr. Ariss said, are attempting to start a technology corridor that would include UT, Medical University of Ohio, Bowling Green State University, and Owens Community College.

But progress has been slow, he said.

"We are in a transition period from manufacturing to high-tech, but the transition period has taken longer than what we would have liked," he said.

The Medical University of Ohio has had a 230-acre tech park available for 10 years that was supposed to create up to 6,000 jobs, but it has attracted few businesses. A Dana Corp. technical center, which opened in a new industrial park in 2004 in Maumee, was expected to be a magnet for more high-tech businesses, but little development has occurred.

Ms. Wallace said the planned merger of UT and MUO should help if the community wants to try to attract businesses.

"The skilled applicants [who graduate] can be huge for moving the area forward," she said.

The Milken report separately ranked 179 small metro markets for job growth. Three area cities listed did not fare well. Sandusky was ranked No. 152, Lima No. 156, and Monroe, No. 162.

Ms. Wallace said the Toledo area should not dwell on what it does not have, but instead should emphasize what it does have, such as affordable housing.

"One has to take those comparative advantages and market them and enhance them so that they become competitive advantages," she said.

Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at

mmclaughlin@theblade.com

or 419-724-6199.



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