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Published: Monday, 7/3/2006

Suburbs also feel pain of recession

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

If we learned anything from June - from its mayoral spats and All-America honors and Census-supplied discouragement - it's that Toledo may be struggling, but its suburbs are smiling.

Right?

Maybe not.

A study of state income tax returns released by a Cleveland nonprofit group last week shows the recent recession battered Toledo, but it hurt several suburbs more.

The economists behind the research say there's a lesson for the region: When it comes to economic growth, we're all in this together.

The analysis by the Center for Community Solutions, a nonpartisan group that tracks all sorts of economic data, found median incomes in the Springfield, Oregon, Rossford, and Sylvania school districts all fell further from 2000 to 2003 than in Toledo.

The metro area's biggest drop came in Maumee - recent winner of an All-America City designation. The region's richest suburb, Ottawa Hills, managed to beat Toledo but still saw a slight income loss.

Results were similar for Columbus, Cleveland, and nearly every Ohio city. Only 3 percent of the state's school districts posted median income gains during the recession, and Ohio's overall median income fell.

George Zeller, a Community Solutions economic research analyst, said the findings challenge the notion that wealthier suburbanites aren't affected when their urban neighbors hit tough times. "We all have a stake in getting Ohio out of this rut that we're in," Mr. Zeller said, adding later: "The idea that you can ignore this kind of stuff if you're living out in Ottawa Hills is not reasonable."

In Toledo, a lot of stuff looked bad last month. The U.S. Census Bureau announced the city is losing population faster than all but 13 cities in the country. Days later, the mayor and police chief parted ways rather messily.

Meanwhile, Perrysburg recently showed off its new headquarters for Owens-Illinois, which is ditching downtown Toledo, and Maumee threw an All-America celebration.

The recession figures look bad for everybody. After adjusting for inflation, the median income in the Toledo Public School District fell nearly 9 percent from 2000 to 2003, ending up at $24,753, according to the Community Solutions report. (The drop was 11.5 percent, to $28,794, in the Washington Local School District, which includes parts of Toledo.)

Median income dropped 0.1 percent in Ottawa Hills, to $62,936, and 6.6 percent in Swanton. Others were steeper: 9.4 percent in Oregon, 9.5 percent in Sylvania, about 12 percent in Rossford, and 13.5 percent in Maumee.

All of those suburbs outperformed Toledo over a broader period, from 1993 to 2003. But several, including Sylvania and Maumee, still saw median incomes fall in that time.

Several mayors said the news didn't surprise them.

"What victimizes one city in a region is going to victimize 90 to 95 percent of the communities in a region as well," said Carty Finkbeiner, Toledo's mayor.

Added Tim Wagener, mayor of Maumee: "I think [recession] hits every community and individuals hard."

Mr. Zeller said the data show Ohio's problems aren't just regionwide, they're statewide - and they cut across sectors. The state lost manufacturing jobs during the recession, he said, but it also lost a lot of "lawyers, scientists, and engineers."

And while the Toledo area suffered collectively, Mr. Zeller said, folks around here can take a bit of solace: Our recession wasn't as bad as Cleveland's, Springfield's, or Dayton's.

Contact Jim Tankersley at: jtankersley@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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