A new snapshot of the Toledo economy offers both cause for optimism and reason for discouragement. How strongly the metropolitan area recovers from the Great Recession will depend on which of these responses the region’s and state’s leaders choose to emphasize and act on.
The study, compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, reports that metro Toledo — Lucas, Wood, Fulton, and Ottawa counties — has fewer manufacturing jobs today than it did in 2006, before the recession began. Because manufacturing remains the regional economy’s most important sector, it’s not surprising that this loss of jobs has caused the metro area’s population to decline steadily as well. That, in turn, has led to slumps in the local housing market and employment in the service economy.
Yet the Fed report notes that manufacturing employment has grown strongly here since mid-2009, at the trough of the recession. The number of jobs in the metro area’s professional and business service sectors is the highest since 2000. The drop in local population has slowed, if not yet reversed.
Metro Toledo’s unemployment rate remains higher than Ohio’s and the nation’s, a product of this region’s reliance on traditional manufacturing — notably auto assembly and parts — and its relatively low level of educational achievement. But it’s not all bad: The recent increase in the jobless rate largely reflects more people returning to the labor market and again actively looking for work, according to the Fed study.
And for those who are employed, average weekly wages in metro Toledo are higher than in Ohio and the nation. Income per person in the region is higher now than it was before the recession.
Other positive signs in the Fed study: Per person, metro Toledo’s gross domestic product — the market value of all goods and services produced here — is higher now than before the recession.
Local housing prices and issuances of building permits are rising again, if slowly. Consumer debt per adult and credit-card delinquency rates in metro Toledo have fallen, and are much lower than national levels.
The Toledo area still lags the nation in the share of its residents over age 25 who have a bachelor’s degree. But we’re catching up: Between 2009 and 2012, that percentage increased more than twice as fast as the national average.
This region will, and should, always play to its strengths in traditional manufacturing. But it also can build on that base to nurture emerging industries, such as alternative energy production. Northwest Ohio is doing just that, but the effort could stop dead if the General Assembly prevails in its shortsighted attempt to kill the state’s standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Local unions and businesses can accelerate their efforts to provide apprenticeships and certification programs that give workers advanced technical training. They can work with government and educational institutions to connect job seekers better with employment and training opportunities.
The metro area also needs to build on its recent gains in higher-education attainment. That means keeping tuition affordable and not burying students in loan debt. That, in turn, will require an adequate complement of state aid to public colleges and universities.
Toledo is pulling out of the recession, but its economic future remains to be defined. The priorities this community sets today to promote or discourage the creation of jobs — their quality and their number — as well as educational improvement and business investment will resonate for generations.