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Published: Tuesday, 12/15/2009

Toledo economy ranked low

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Metro Toledo and Ohio have improved slightly in coping with the recession, but both still rank among the lowest in the nation, a new study shows.

Among the top 100 metro areas nationally, Toledo ranked among the 20 weakest-performing areas in the third quarter, according to a study by the nonprofit Brookings Institution. The report was to be released today.

Dayton, Youngstown, and Detroit also ranked in the bottom 20.

No metro area in Michigan or Ohio finished among the top 20.

Cleveland, Akron, and Cincinnati all finished in the second-weakest 20, and Columbus was in the middle 20 metro areas.

"Overall, the [Great Lakes] area was not as bad this time as in the past," said Howard Wial, a co-author of the quarterly study, which debuted in June.

"The biggest cluster of the weakest economies are now in Florida and areas of the Southeast, and in California," Mr. Wial said. "Basically, we think the cash-for-clunkers program lifted most of the areas around the Great Lakes. So that's a little bit of good news."

In the Toledo area, housing prices and the number of repossessed properties seem to have stabilized. Employment, unemployment, and gross metropolitan product, which is the sum of the area's goods and services, continue to be weak.

The study found that third-quarter employment in the region decreased 10.2 percent since the first quarter of 2006, which was the peak of employment in the past five years. Other metropolitan areas averaged a loss of 4.3 percent of jobs from their peaks, while the nation dropped 4.6 percent.

Toledo ranked 94th out of 100 in terms of employment, but in the second quarter it was 96th.

Columbus, the best-performing metro area in the state, was ranked 19th out of 100.

"It's been a real tough go, and hopefully things are starting to be on the mend," said economist Ken Mayland of ClearView Economics in Cleveland.

The study put the Toledo area's unemployment rate at 11.1 percent, which was an improvement from 14.2 percent in the second quarter. Toledo ranked 77th out of 100.

The other metro areas averaged unemployment rates of 9.6 percent. The U.S. average was 9.5 percent.

The area's gross metropolitan product was down 9.3 percent since the third quarter of 2005 and was down 1.5 percent from the second quarter. It ranked 98th out of 100, worse than 93rd in the second quarter.

Housing prices, though, were on the upswing. They rose 0.5 percent in the third quarter, giving the Toledo area its strongest ranking, 43rd out of 100. They ranked 48th in the second quarter. Other metro area averaged a 3 percent drop in prices, and the nationwide average was a 1.3 percent decline.

Across Ohio housing prices were strong with Akron ranked 38th, Cleveland 36th, Cincinnati 40th, Columbus 24th, Dayton 34th, and Youngstown 18th.

Mr. Wial said every area in the U.S. benefited recently from the first-time home buyer tax credit and all got various forms of stimulus money.

Clearly, the cash-for-clunkers program and the home-buyer tax credit had enough of an overall positive effect on the Great Lakes to lift it up in several categories, Mr. Wial said.

"I think that points to just how fragile this economic recovery is in so many areas. It's very possible that, with only slight changes, things improve," he said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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