Regional Indicators update: Cincinnati improves vs. peer cities, but a lot of work remains

After four years of tracking this region’s economic indicators, Greater Cincinnati has improved slightly compared to peer cities but still lags in job creation, venture capital investment and other important areas. Those were among the highlights from the Regional Indicators Report’s 2014 update presented at the Covington Business Council luncheon March 19.
Kristine Frech, Strategic Initiatives Manager for Vision 2015, presented key findings from the update report and highlighted areas of potential growth for the Tristate.
The Regional Indicators Report began in 2010 as a partnership between Vision 2015 and Agenda 360 in order to gather unbiased data on 15 key indicators that would allow for direct comparison of Greater Cincinnati to 11 competing peer markets. Those markets — Austin, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Indianapolis, Louisville, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Raleigh and St. Louis — were selected based on their similarities in geography, population size or demographics to the 15-county Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area and because they often compete with Cincinnati for people and jobs.

In the original 2010 report, Cincinnati received an overall ranking of 10th out of the 12 regions. The 2014 update shows some improvement, as Cincinnati is now #9 of 12. Denver is #1, while Charlotte, Cleveland and Louisville rank below Cincinnati.
In her presentation, Frech focused on significant numbers from the two main study areas, People Indicators and Job Indicators.
First, although Cincinnati has moved from 8th to 7th in overall People Indicators, the region still struggles with population growth, aging population and poverty.
Greater Cincinnati has lost population since 2010, holding steady at 10th in “net migration” with a total loss of 568 residents while the average of the 12 peer cities was plus 12,022 residents. The “old age dependency” indicator — comparing the population of residents over 65 to the population between the ages of 20 and 64 — has the region holding steady at 8th, though Cincinnati fell from 9 to 11 in the percentage of population ages 20-64.
Most troubling is the poverty indicator, where the metro area fell from #3 to #5 — meaning more people are living in poverty in our region today than in 2010.
Each of these People Indicators presents a challenge and an opportunity, Frech said. She encouraged those in attendance to consider what would encourage people to stay in the region or attract them to move here. For instance, Cincinnati continues to rank highly in the indexes tracking cost of living and housing opportunity.
Among the challenges, Frech said, are the impacts that an aging population and a high poverty level can have on regional resources, including healthcare, education and employment.
Greater Cincinnati also improved in overall Job Indicators rankings, from 11th in 2010 to 10th in 2014.
The region has shown strong growth in the “knowledge jobs” indicator, moving from 12th to 8th. This indicator is critical, Frech said, noting that “33 percent of jobs in 2020 will require advance training or degrees.”
The unemployment indicator presents mixed news for the Tristate. Although the ranking improved from 9th to 7th, Frech said the reality of the current job market is that many unemployed individuals are accepting positions at a lower pay level than their previous job, which impacts per capita income and average annual wage.
The “venture capital jobs” indicator continues to be problematic for Cincinnati, Frech said. The peer average for the 12 cities in annual venture capital investment is $287 million, but the Cincinnati region, ranked 10th, has an average annual venture capital investment of just $55 million.
Despite the grim disparity between the peer average and local reality, Frech said that “operations like CincyTech, Cintrifuse and UpTech are absolutely helping to drive venture capital.”
The data provided in the Regional Indicators Report is inspiring additional research in an effort to dive deeper into specific issues.
In 2012, Agenda 360 and Vision 2015 published Diversity by Design: Meeting the Talent Challenge in a Global Economy, specifically examining diversity issues raised by the first Regional Indicators Report, which concluded that “our region is highly homogeneous and that we have work to do to be a truly, inclusive, welcoming community.” Frech said that as a response the community created eight action teams meeting regularly to address diversity issues including immigration, minority leadership, and employee resource groups.
The Women's Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation published PULSE: 2020 Jobs and Gender Outlook in 2014 to examine the current state of self-sufficiency for women working in Greater Cincinnati.
The 2010 Regional Indicators Report had found that “based on current trends, job growth in our region is not likely to result in uniform prosperity for both genders.” In examining job openings by occupational group, women were overrepresented in low-level healthcare positions as well as low-paying service and administrative jobs.
Each of those occupational groups are forecast to grow in the 2020 Jobs Outlook, with healthcare support showing the highest rate of growth. Unfortunately, these types of positions will not provide self-sufficiency. As Frech noted in her presentation, the PULSE report predicts that “in 2020, four of every seven women are projected to work in occupations with a median wage that is inadequate to support a woman with one child without public assistance.”
The data provided by these reports is driving conversation and action throughout the region, Frech said. In addition to the studies on diversity and gender, additional research is underway to look at how other cities have improved their rankings, seeking patterns of change as well as determining if specific indicators push or pull other indicators.
There are also plans to develop transportation indicators in order to provide objective comparisons to peer cities in the areas of infrastructure and public transportation.
Frech concluded her presentation by encouraging everyone to tell a better story about our region, focusing on growth and the future.
“The Regional Indicators Report has the power to pull together a region around a common agenda and a common set of indicators,” she said. “By convening around these specific indicators, we can all work together to promote economic vitality in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region.”
All of the reports referenced in this article, as well as earlier versions of the Regional Indicators Report, can be downloaded from the Regional Indicators website.
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Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.