Many residents who leave Lucas County head south, west

6/29/2008
BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
More than half of Toledo and Lucas County residents who migrated out of the county between 2000 and 2006 left the state, with Phoenix, Fort Myers,
Fla., and Las Vegas the top cities to which Toledoans head.
More than half of Toledo and Lucas County residents who migrated out of the county between 2000 and 2006 left the state, with Phoenix, Fort Myers, Fla., and Las Vegas the top cities to which Toledoans head.

Toledo and Lucas County have lost more than 13,000 people since 2000, with nearby suburbs reaping some of the exodus, but most looked beyond Ohio for sunnier, warmer, and more job-plentiful states in which to settle.

Figures from the Internal Revenue Service show that more than half of that loss was to Arizona, California, and Florida.

According to the numbers, between 2000 and 2006, 34 percent of Lucas County s loss went to the surrounding counties of Wood, Henry, Ottawa, and Fulton in Ohio and Monroe and Lenawee counties in Michigan, while just more than 9 percent migrated to other parts of Ohio.

The rest 56 percent packed up and moved to other parts of the country.

The numbers are based on net loss the difference between the number of people who left Lucas County for another county and the number of people who moved to the county.

The figures show that Phoenix; Fort Myers and Cape Coral, Fla.; Las Vegas, and Charlotte are the top destinations for former Lucas County residents.

Those who have left the county have taken $645 million in income with them, according to the IRS data.

While the figures do not include ages or occupations, population experts said the bulk of the outflow is young people looking for jobs not retirees looking for a warmer climate.

People often think, it s a bunch of older people moving to Florida, said Gary Lee, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University. That s actually very small 95 percent of people who retire stay right where they are. Most migration is migration of younger adults, and most of that is due to employment.

But the job-seekers also include middle-age residents looking westward to improve their careers.

An easy decision

For Marci Williams, 56, a Bellevue, Ohio, native and graduate of the University of Toledo, the choice was easy.

The longtime Toledo resident and health-care worker was skipping from job to job each for less pay after having been downsized from ProMedica in 2002, when she got a call from a private college in Phoenix.

Midwestern University, which has a campus in Glendale, Ariz., offered to almost double her salary to work as a manager at the university s hospital.

The benefit package was something I never even dreamed could be possible, Mrs. Williams said.

Her husband, a longtime diesel mechanic, barely was making minimum wage working as a driver for an assisted-living center before moving to Arizona.

I was a little more fortunate. I was on the health-care side; I had good benefits and decent pay, Mrs. Williams said. But there s a glass ceiling in health care in Toledo. It s definitely a very political system.

The two sold their Monclova Township house and drove to Phoenix in January, 2007.

Marci Williams, 56, accepted a job in Phoenix after she was downsized from her job at ProMedica in Toledo.
Marci Williams, 56, accepted a job in Phoenix after she was downsized from her job at ProMedica in Toledo.

She said the taxes, utilities, luxuries, and culture in Arizona leave Toledo in the dust.

The health-care systems in Phoenix work together much better than Toledo s, and they have more women in prominent management positions, she said.

Out here, we have health-care systems three times the size of what s in Toledo. None of them spat. They work cooperatively, she said.

In an office overlooking palm trees and cacti, she makes almost twice as much for a job with less responsibility than her previous positions in Toledo.

She said she has no regrets about leaving her family and childhood home for Arizona.

It was not a difficult decision to make. It was the right decision, Mrs. Williams said. The truth is, we always liked being here. The sun is out every day, you don t have depression. The roads are wonderful. They put money into the roads, they put money into fire and police.

Although she still makes it back to Lucas County every year to visit her grandchildren, many of her closest family members also have left Ohio.

Her son, for example, went to Los Angeles to work for Warner Brothers Studios as a sound technician.

Targeting the Midwest

She said job recruiters in the Southwest will often look in the Midwest for applicants with a strong work ethic.

I was also told on my interview that employers here like to see the strong Midwestern ethical standard, Mrs. Williams said. The work force from the Midwest generally has been raised in middle-class, hard-working, blue-collar families, and they ve had to earn their way. They understand what it takes to work, and their standards and ethics seem to be higher than some of the local candidates.

That s true for fields other than health care. In 2006, recruiters for the Phoenix Police Department came to the University of Toledo to look for young cadets to replace retiring veterans.

Younger people with fewer regional ties and looking for new jobs are more likely to move, according to experts.

A  proud Toledo native,  Lauren Romanoff, 29, says her hometown doesn t have the jobs to keep her in the area .
A proud Toledo native, Lauren Romanoff, 29, says her hometown doesn t have the jobs to keep her in the area .

The reason people tend to stay is because of their family and tradition, said Frank Goza, a professor at Bowling Green who specializes in population shifts. Younger people don t necessarily have those ties. They re much more likely to pack their bags.

Lauren Romanoff, 29, who works as a chef for a piano bar in Chicago, said Toledo isn t the place a young cook would look for employment.

An Ohio State University graduate, Miss Romanoff has lived in New York, California, and Spain, but in Chicago she said she s found the place she wants to stay.

She attended culinary school at Chicago s Kendall College and returned to Chicago after volunteer cooking stints in Berkeley, Calif., and New York City.

It s just a fabulous city, it s got everything you could possibly want in a city, Miss Romanoff said. And it s still in the Midwest, so the people are friendly.

She still considers herself a proud Toledo native even wearing a Mud Hens hat around the streets of Chicago but didn t find anything to attract her back to her hometown.

For my profession, as a chef, there s definitely nothing there. Unfortunately, Toledo gets great restaurants in, and they do not last, Miss Romanoff said. It s where I m from, I m proud of it, but it s just never going to work for me to live there because of what I do.

Chicago is among the top cities to which Lucas County residents migrate.

Miss Romanoff said Toledo has failed to find ways to keep young professionals in the city.

There s not much keeping us here, in every aspect of the way job opportunity, fun and excitement, she said. I love it, it s where I grew up, but there s not much going on there.

Toledo s outward migration is unique even by Midwest standards.

Montgomery County is similar to Lucas County in many ways its county seat, Dayton, is roughly the same size as Toledo but its population numbers show more of its residents are migrating to the suburbs or to nearby Cincinnati.

While Lucas County has seen 34 percent go to surrounding counties, 40 percent of Montgomery County s loss is to the seven surrounding counties, and 13 percent is to other parts of Ohio.

It s certainly an issue that we need to address. People are in essence voting with their feet and leaving town and seeking better opportunity. It s hard to blame them, Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop said.

Mr. Konop, 32, left Toledo for college and returned after living in Washington for three years.

People move often, much more often than any other time in the history of human beings, he said. Some movement is likely, and I think productive. We get a broader perspective. But we have to do a better job of capturing people who grow up here and leave for a period of time.

Mr. Konop said the solution is to invest in emerging fields such as alternative energy and high-tech companies, to attract new generations of young workers.

Lucas County s biggest source of population gain was nearby Wayne County in Michigan, where Detroit has hemorrhaged jobs and people for years.

According to Census data, the Detroit-Warren-Livonia metro area in Michigan lost 27,314 people between 2006 and 2007 by far the most in the nation.

A regional breakdown shows that 50 percent of Lucas County s population loss is to the Midwest, including 6 percent to Michigan. The Northeast is responsible for 3 percent of Lucas County s loss, while 11 percent moved to the West.

But one of the biggest areas is the South, where 35 percent of ex-Lucas County residents have gone.

Despite years of successive loss, the picture might be changing.

According to William Frey, a professor at the University of Michigan and a demographer with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, the recent national housing bust and subprime mortgage crisis have stemmed the tide of population migration to the South and West.

In this last year, the census estimates have shown a little bit of a retrenchment from the Midwest, Mr. Frey said. A lot of the people going to these fast-growing places have pulled back. Florida has had a huge decline in its growth and its migration because of the housing crunch.

The IRS has not released county-by-county migration data for 2007 or 2008.

While other areas of the Midwest might be seeing a rebound or seeing people leave at a slightly lower rate Lucas County s loss rates remain steady.

According to the U.S. Census, the county lost about 0.5 percent of its population between 2006 and 2007, about the same as in the previous years.

Contact Alex M. Parker at: aparker@theblade.comor 419-724-6107.