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Auto sales, housing give Toledo a boost

Glass City ramps up 63 spots in Milken index

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    Toledo has jumped 63 spots and into the top 100 of the Milken Institute’s annual index of the Best-Performing American Cities.

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Strong sales of the Toledo-built Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Wrangler, plus a surge in area homebuilding and construction projects, rocketed metro Toledo up 63 spots and into the top 100 of the Milken Institute’s annual index of the Best-Performing American Cities.

At No. 99 out of 200 large metro areas, it marked Toledo’s highest index rating since before the 2007 recession. Toledo’s improvement from last year — it was No. 162 in 2015 — was the third-biggest gain by a city on the index, behind the Daytona Beach area of Florida (up 68 spots) and Richmond, Va. (up 64 spots).

“This is the best year for Toledo’s economy in over a decade. The key factor: the recovery in the auto industry,” said Ross DeVol, author of the Milken study “2016 Best Performing Cities,” which was released today.

Mr. DeVol said Fiat Chrysler Automobiles having the Cherokee and Wrangler products well positioned to take off once the auto industry rebounded was essential. The automaker’s Toledo Assembly Complex makes all of the Jeep Wranglers worldwide and nearly all of the Cherokees.

“Toledo is benefiting from the excellent reception for those products, Jeep Cherokee and Wrangler. But it’s not just Jeep,” Mr. DeVol said. “It’s all the domestic parts suppliers that also are benefiting throughout the supply chain.”

That included nearby Monroe, Mich., a parts supplier town that rose to No. 14 on the list of the 201 Best-Performing Small Cities after being No. 30 in 2015.

“Monroe’s rise is related to the auto supply chain,” Mr. DeVol said. “That whole [Detroit] corridor is benefiting from the recovery of the auto industry. When Jeep does better, local parts suppliers do better as well.”

He added about Toledo: “I’m pretty confident to say that next year, as we get the figures for Toledo, it will move up even further.”

Other reasons for Toledo’s improvement, he explained, were recoveries in housing and construction over the last year. “Single family housing has recovered strongly this year, and construction employment is up 11 percent from a year ago,” he said.

A report last week by the website Headlight Data said metro Toledo’s output of all goods and services grew more than 25 percent in the five years since the height of the Great Recession, putting the area seventh among the nation’s top 10 midsize metros with the fastest growing gross regional product. Headlight Data said the primary contributor to the high growth was Toledo’s surging manufacturing sector.

A November report by the Federal Reserve of Cleveland also showed that metro Toledo’s economy thrived in 2016. It grew at a rate of 2.4 percent, compared with 1.9 percent nationwide, thanks to strong demand for autos.

In the Milken study’s nine performance metrics, Toledo ranked No. 95 in job growth from 2010 to 2015, No. 113 in job growth from 2014 to 2015, No. 88 in wage growth from 2009 to 2014, No. 66 in wage growth from 2013 to 2014, No. 71 in short-term job growth from August, 2015 to August, 2016, and No. 74 in high-tech GDP growth from 2010 to 2015.

The overall ranks for other big Ohio metro areas were Columbus at No. 65, Cincinnati No. 84, Akron No. 124, Dayton No. 129, Cleveland No. 151, Canton No. 161, and Youngstown No. 193. Among small cities, Lima was No. 119.

Mr. DeVol said Toledo’s strong growth in the wages metric was because of the rise in auto industry and construction jobs.

“Those are better wage jobs and that helps with wage growth,” he said.

While not as strong as autos, housing or construction, gains in the health-care industry also helped Toledo improve last year, the study showed.

The only negative for Toledo was a poor performance in categories relating to high-tech. While high-tech GDP growth was strong between 2010 and 2015, Toledo was No. 144 for recent high-tech GDP growth, No. 173 for high-tech GDP concentration in 2015, and No. 194 in the number of high-tech industries.

Technology is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country, Mr. DeVol said, but Toledo just doesn’t have a strong technology sector. “There has been some improvement in it. Health care doesn’t show up in technology, per se, but high skill jobs are added there,” he added.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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