Originally published in The Akron Beacon Journal

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Sunday, July 8, 2001




Beacon Journal staff writers

In the past decade, Ohio lost a larger number of people in its core work force -- 146,000 people ages 20 through 54 -- than any other state, according to the latest census reports.

Nearly three-quarters of losses were members of Generation X, those born between 1966 and 1980. Last year's census found 2.25 million Gen-Xers -- 107,000 fewer than recorded in 1990, when the group was 10 years younger.

The net loss, representing the gap between the number of people moving into and out of the state, minus the small number of deaths, is more than all Gen-Xers living in Summit County. And it comes as the overall state population grew by 4.7 percent.

More troubling than how many young people are gone is when they left. By almost all measures, the 1990s were years of prosperity -- a decade of economic recovery after the elimination of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in Ohio and the other Rust Belt northern states in the aftermath of the early '80s recession.

If Ohio can't keep its workers from leaving in good times, what happens if today's faltering economy continues to stagnate?

Indeed, many more Ohioans packed up and moved during the hard-time 1980s than in the last decade. In the '80s, it was a youthful baby boom generation, those born from 1946 to 1965, that hit the road.

Mike Layton was one of the 325,000 Ohio baby boomers counted lost in the 1980s. Layton, a graduate of Akron's Kenmore High School, was in his early 20s when he moved to Tennessee in the mid-1980s, looking for better job opportunities.

He found them. Six months after arriving, he doubled his old salary by taking a job at the Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. plant in LaVergne, Tenn. Today, he makes about $22 an hour making tread for truck tires.

Layton said the money wasn't his only reason for leaving Ohio.

``I never felt secure with any job there,'' he said, noting that the Wadsworth plant where he worked for a time in the early 1980s closed about a year after he left for Tennessee.

Ohio wasn't alone in bleeding workers in the 1980s: More than half the 50 states lost baby boomers and Gen-Xers in that decade, led by the Rust Belt quartet of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

But for most states, the exodus slowed in the '90s, when only 16 states recorded losses in the two generations combined.

Gain in Illinois

While Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania remained in the red, one Rust Belt state reversed the trend. Illinois showed a gain of 105,000 residents -- thanks mainly to a 7.6 percent increase in the number of Gen-X residents from a decade earlier.

One reason for Illinois' success was a large influx of international immigrants to Chicago, according to Paul Gottlieb, associate director of the Center for Regional Economic Issues at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management.

According to Census Bureau estimates, Illinois netted 384,000 foreign immigrants between 1990 and 1999, compared with Ohio's 53,000.

``Many of those would qualify as Gen-Xers,'' Gottlieb said.

But Gottlieb said Chicago also is attracting workers from around the nation because of the city's success in adapting to a changing global economy.

``High-tech workers like a cosmopolitan lifestyle,'' he said.

Oregon's outdoors

Some also love the great outdoors, said Jeremy Lees, 26, a computer hardware engineer who left Akron last year for a job in Hillsboro, Ore.

Lees wanted to work for a big-name company in his industry. They don't come any bigger than Intel Corp., the world's largest maker of computer chips.

``Before I started college, I wanted to go to the Northwest,'' Lees said. ``Then a division of Intel called and said, `We're in the Northwest.' I jumped.''

Lees said he appreciates Oregon's urban growth boundaries, which rein in development -- at the price of increasing the cost of housing.

``In Ohio you have urban sprawl,'' he said. But in Hillsboro, ``drive anywhere from the main highway and go three to five miles and you're in the middle of nowhere.''

Lees, who married a woman from Medina County and plans to buy his first home soon, said it has been easy to settle in Oregon.

``Out here, at least 50 percent of the people that you meet are from some other state or some other part of the world,'' he said.

Despite considering the Northwest a ``sort of a match made in heaven,'' Lees said he would have considered staying in the Buckeye State if Intel had had a job for him here.

Followed job south

Shelley Buchanan said she'd still be in Coventry Township if Bridgestone/Firestone hadn't moved her sales job to Tennessee when the company moved its headquarters to Nashville in 1992.

A divorced mother of two boys, who were 13 and 7 at the time, she said she had no choice but to accept the transfer. ``I had already invested 20 years with the company.''

Buchanan still has strong ties to Ohio -- one son is a student at the University of Akron, and the second is in Akron for the summer visiting with his father.

She said uprooting her family and relocating at the age of 40 was unsettling.

``The first two years were rough,'' she said, crediting her ex-husband for helping care for the boys, who visited Akron in the summers.

Buchanan said she also was fortunate to have friends in Tennessee -- other Bridgestone/Firestone workers who had followed their jobs there.

``We had our own little built-in support group,'' she said.

Loves Arizona climate

Not everyone who leaves Ohio has an economic motive.

``The climate was the biggest factor . . . I'm a sun worshipper,'' said Randy Slawter, who plans to move from Wadsworth to Tucson, Ariz., later this month.

Slawter, 40, said he fell in love with Arizona 20 years ago during a visit.

``I got tired of thinking and talking'' about making the move, he said. ``I just decided to do it.''

Slawter will leave his job as an assistant service manager at Wadsworth Ford Sales Inc. He hopes to find a similar job in Arizona.

It's a good bet he will succeed. While Ohio's economy recovered in the 1990s, other states have done even better.

The '90s ``were good times in the Rust Belt, but they were even better times in the Sun Belt,'' said Bill Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center.

Those booming economies are a big reason why Slawter has plenty of company in his search for the sun: Nearly 80 percent of the 153,138 households who left Ohio from 1990 to 1999 moved to states in the South or Southwest, according to Internal Revenue Service data.

The IRS reports, compiled annually from tax returns with address changes, found only 26,497 households came into Ohio in the decade; that means the state had a net departure of 126,641 households.

Ohio pays high price

Whether the moves were voluntary or because of economic necessity, Ohio pays a big price for its lost workers. The IRS found that households leaving Ohio in the past five years reported adjusted gross incomes for the year following the move totaling $4.6 billion more than households coming into the state.

While researchers say a growing economy is a key way to keep and attract workers, they disagree on how best to achieve that goal.

Case Western's Gottlieb calls on Ohio businesses to embrace the high-tech ``new economy,'' centered on the communication and analysis of information.

Ned Hill, senior research scholar at Cleveland State University's Urban Center, argues the state's best shot at creating jobs lies in new products grown ``off our base'' of manufacturing that already exists in Ohio.

To stimulate manufacturing growth, Hill urges dramatic changes in the state's tax code, including elimination of the corporate franchise tax and the tangible personal property tax on machinery and equipment.

To attract young workers, the Akron Regional Development Board and Greater Cleveland Growth Association are considering a major advertising campaign. It would also be aimed at recruiting businesses.

``The message has to be: There are exciting career opportunities in Ohio,'' said Daniel Berry, who studies work force issues for the growth association.

People follow jobs

That people go where the jobs are is seen vividly in the state's lopsided internal migration patterns.

Of Ohio's 88 counties, 77 lost Gen-Xers -- with most of the worst declines coming in rural areas.

In contrast, six of the 11 counties that saw gains are in or near the heavily urban Columbus metro area, led by Franklin County's dramatic 50,302 increase. Four others are near Cincinnati (although Cincinnati's home county of Hamilton lost Gen-Xers).

Cleveland's Cuyahoga County and Akron's Summit County also lost Gen-Xers, 8,296 and 2,707, respectively, but their percentage drops were less than the state average.

Hill said it made perfect economic sense that rural areas fared the worst. ``Where you see the losers are in the very rural parts of the state without a strong economic base,'' he said.

Of the counties that gained Gen-Xers, he said: ``Most of these gains are located along the exit ramps of the highways, close to the central cities. It's where the job growth is; it's also where the shortest commutes are.''

The contrast between rural losses and urban/suburban gains would be even starker except for Ohio's penchant for building prisons in farm country. Since 1990, the state has opened 13 prisons; three are in rural counties with fewer than 200 residents per square mile.

How a new prison can affect a rural county's population is seen most dramatically in Noble County, whose 14,000 residents make it the state's second smallest. Noble gained 951 Gen-Xers in the 1990s -- a 39.9 percent increase, the state's biggest.

But that figure includes more than 2,000 inmates of the state prison that was built in the county seat, Caldwell, in 1996.

© Copyright 2001 The Akron Beacon Journal

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