Thursday, March 6, 2003

Workers driving farther for jobs

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

More and more Tristate residents are driving from the county where they live to a job in another county, new Census data shows.

In addition, a significant number of Hamilton County residents took jobs in the surrounding suburban counties during the 1990s.

The economic consequence of the shift: The region's core is left with a stagnant earnings tax base and fewer dollars to pay for pivotal public services such as police, fire and road improvements.

"From a regional perspective, you have to ask: Is this healthy development?" said Haynes Goddard, a University of Cincinnati economics professor who noted such a growth pattern creates congested highways, poor air quality and inefficient use of tax dollars.

The new data released today on commuting patterns are the first figures from the 2000 Census that show where people lived and worked over the past decade, and for Greater Cincinnati it revealed a spike in workers commuting to jobs far from home.

Hamilton County's position as the region's dominant job provider waned in the decade. Nearly 20,000 of its residents either found jobs in the ring counties or moved to live and work in a ring county.

Cincinnati was a big loser, too, with a decline of 28,000 adults who worked a job within city limits. (Other than Cincinnati, figures were not available for the region's cities, townships or villages.)

The new Census figures tracking commuting trends of area residents aged 16 and over show:

• All the suburban counties had increases in adults taking jobs, led by Boone, Warren and Butler counties.

• The increased job growth in the suburbs meant more area residents crossed county lines to get to work. In fact, there was a 30.7 percent increase in residents commuting to another county to work.

• Hamilton County's role as the chief job creator diminished, with 519,981 people - or 54 percent of the region's commuting adults - working in the region's core county. In 1990, 62 percent traveled to jobs in Hamilton County.

• Despite its losses, Hamilton County was only one of two counties that drew more workers than it sent to another. So Hamilton County was a "net importer" of 121,516 workers, and Boone County had 19,465 more jobs than workers.

Hamilton County leaders say the numbers should point up the need to shore up the core's economic development efforts. Commissioner Phil Heimlich advocates slashing bureaucratic costs and then making some targeted investments to spur job growth.

Ring counties grow

Other area counties enjoyed more favorable job-growth results. The number of working adults holding jobs in Northern Kentucky's fast-growing Boone County spiked 77 percent - the largest gain of any Greater Cincinnati county.

The major job growth driver for Boone has been the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, but other factors accounted for the area's job growth, too. Interstates 71/75 and 275 slice through Boone, providing valuable real estate for companies seeking convenient and high-profile locations.

"Boone County has a very large percentage of the interstate, and companies want to locate along the interstate," said Danny Fore, who heads the Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corp., the principal job recruiter for Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. Even though Boone County recorded a net growth of 27,882 adults working there, the Census figures show fewer than 9,500 of those workers lived in Boone County.

The county gained another 6,500 new residents who lived in Boone but worked elsewhere.

Warren and Clermont counties also were chief contributors to the increasing trend of residents living and working in separate counties.

Commutes get longer

The new figures mirror the growing frustration of commuters who navigate the crowded freeways daily to get to work and home from far-flung suburbs.

Only a few years ago, Kim Reynolds worked and lived in the same town.

Now the Milford resident has joined the growing commuter ranks, setting aside 40 minutes each morning for her daily trek to West Chester, where she works for a homebuilder.

Sometimes, as road repair season kicks into gear, the commute grows even longer.

"I hate the traffic because (Interstate) 275 is horrendous and the Interstate 71 interchange is even worse," Reynolds said.


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