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KJP

Rural Ohio is dying

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We've talked about it at the fringes, usually in regards to how it is affecting Ohio's cities' populations and economies. But, let's face it, small-town Ohio is fading away.

 

Unless your small town has a college or university, your town has mostly old people or poor people. And both are diminishing in numbers. Old people are dying off and poor people are moving away, in search of a better life. Many are moving to the 3Cs which have more jobs than they can fill with their existing residents. Others are moving to other states.

 

Exacerbating the small-town losses are the loss of manufacturing, more automated/corporate farms, flattened wages, the disappearance of rural intercity/transit bus routes, poor internet services, meth/opioid crises, higher health insurance rates, and more small-town/rural hospitals closing.

 

As Ohio's biggest cities continue to rack up impressive economic growth numbers, the decline of small-town Ohio seems even more stark. This story from 2016 tells the tale: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/i-feel-forgotten-a-decade-of-struggle-in-rural-ohio/amp

 

While I'm glad to see Ohio's biggest metro areas growing again, I don't like seeing small-town Ohio fading away. Economic instability leads to political instability.

 

What personal stories and news can you share from small-town Ohio, including how it may be affecting Urban Ohio?

Edited by KJP

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Isn't the opioid crisis mostly in the inner cities?

 

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Ignore the Duplicates I dont know how to fix that issue.

 

 

 

 

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Edited by tastybunns

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And those charts are all drug overdoses. Furthermore, if you removed them from consideration, small-town Ohio is still dying.

Edited by KJP

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Many small Ohio towns have been on decline with the loss of manufacturing jobs.

 

I don't think this is phenomena associated with just Ohio - it appears to be nationwide.  In small, rural towns across America, the cost of real estate doesn't really fit with the median wage.

 

The most affluent small towns are those with a localized, modern industry that also serves as a good spot for remote workers.

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I would recommend that EVERYONE read Hillbilly Elegy - which focuses on the socioeconomic issues of Appalachian Ohio, more specifically Middletown and Hamilton. 

 

It's a great read. 

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17 minutes ago, MayDay said:

 

FWIW, I still find Salem really charming. It's a shame what's happening to it though. When did you grow up there? What were the big employers then? 

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Even when small towns have a college, it doesn't mean they're doing OK. Look at Alliance, OH, home to Mount Union College. The campus is well south of downtown, negating any benefit from the college to the historic core of the city. In fact, the city's center of gravity has shifted south to college, leaving the historic downtown with perhaps a handful of occupied buildings. 

Edited by KJP

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9 minutes ago, YABO713 said:

I would recommend that EVERYONE read Hillbilly Elegy - which focuses on the socioeconomic issues of Appalachian Ohio, more specifically Middletown and Hamilton. 

 

It's a great read. 

 

I agree that it is a worthwhile read. But from the perspective of someone who grew up in Appalachian Ohio (which Middletown and Hamilton are not actually a part of btw) and has roots in the same part of Kentucky as Vance, my biggest criticism is that he oversimplifies poverty and its root causes to an astounding degree. He comes to the same tired conclusion that so many other conservative authors have come to--that if you just work hard and pull yourself up by your bootstraps you can get out of the cycle of poverty. I did that. Vance did that. But he ignores all the help that we both had along the way, including from the government, and that many kids who work very hard still never escape that cycle for myriad reasons. 

Vance also grossly generalizes his own experience to the wider culture of Appalachia (again, where he did not actually grow up). I saw some of the things that Vance talks about in my community, but his experience was not my experience in many ways. In the end, it's a good memoir and tells the story of one family in a place that has suffered economically, but take it with a grain of salt--it gets a lot wrong about Appalachia. 

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Small towns are dying all over the world as the global economy shifts from being resource- to knowledge-based. Jobs are less dependent on natural resources and transportation, and more on brains. Smaller "lifestyle' cities with natural features can still attract residents, but those small cities, like many on Ohio, will suffer unless Igor can bring them more brains, which means making these small cities attractive places to live. 

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25 minutes ago, KJP said:

Even when small towns have a college, it doesn't mean they're doing OK. Look at Alliance, OH, home to Mount Union College. The campus is well south of downtown, negating any benefit from the college to the historic core of the city. In fact, the city's center of gravity has shifted south to college, leaving the historic downtown with perhaps a handful of occupied buildings. 

 

There still are some great small towns, though some would likely be considered exurbs. 

 

Medina, Lebanon, Mount Vernon, Middlefield, and London are still nice and charming rural or exurban towns and cities 

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1 hour ago, tklg said:

Many small Ohio towns have been on decline with the loss of manufacturing jobs.

 

I don't think this is phenomena associated with just Ohio - it appears to be nationwide.  

 

I would actually go so far as to say it's global, it's definitely happening in other countries as well.

Edited by mu2010

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7 minutes ago, YABO713 said:

 

There still are some great small towns, though some would likely be considered exurbs. 

 

Medina, Lebanon, Mount Vernon, Middlefield, and London are still nice and charming rural or exurban towns and cities 

 

Yeah, the key for all of those towns is their location within commuting distance of large metros. Mt Vernon also has a couple of universities, (Kenyon in nearby Gambier and MVNU aka "the Naz") which never hurt.

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26 minutes ago, westerninterloper said:

Small towns are dying all over the world as the global economy shifts from being resource- to knowledge-based. Jobs are less dependent on natural resources and transportation, and more on brains. Smaller "lifestyle' cities with natural features can still attract residents, but those small cities, like many on Ohio, will suffer unless Igor can bring them more brains, which means making these small cities attractive places to live. 

 

And that explains why small towns with colleges like Kent, Wooster, Oxford, Ada, Athens, etc. are all doing OK to great.

Edited by KJP

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7 minutes ago, KJP said:

 

Nailed it. And that explains why small towns like Kent, Wooster, Oxford, Ada, Athens, etc. are all doing OK to great.

Cities like Findlay are interesting. I suppose having two Fortune 500 companies helps. College towns do quite well because there is so much money coming into those communities in the form of student tuition, housing and state support; good salaries for faculty, and lower demand for jobs in relation to the population. But it's really hard to find small cities without large colleges or far from bigger cities that are thriving. It seems that the ones that can grow already have a strong corporate presence (Midwest), or close access to beautiful natural areas (Mountain West). 

 

Similar phenomena are happening all over Asia too; rural areas in Japan and China too are seeing considerable population decline as birthrates drop and people congregate in cities. 

Edited by westerninterloper

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FWIW, I still find Salem really charming. It's a shame what's happening to it though. When did you grow up there? What were the big employers then? 

Early 70s, moved away in the early 90s. The big employers were the manufacturing plants near South Ellsworth - American Standard, Eljer, Mullins Manufacturing, Deming Pump, and Salem China and a sizable amount of people worked at the GM plant in Lordstown - of those, only American Standard is left and it's nowhere near the capacity it used to be. There are a few manufacturers in the area but again, not employing the numbers that the area once had.

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21 minutes ago, YABO713 said:

 

I used to go for drives into Southeast Ohio from the mid-1980s into the mid-1990s just to enjoy the scenery. One of my favorite stretches is US250 along Tappan Lake. Sometimes I would start my drives at 3 a.m. after a night of drinking. At dawn, after I'd turned around at Wheeling and began returning north, I reached Tappan Lake at dawn on a late-Fall morning and, of course, I was the only person on the road for miles. The beauty and peace was unmatched. Never felt like that before or since.

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9 minutes ago, BigDipper 80 said:

 

 

 

That part of Appalachian Ohio (Belmont, Monroe, Noble, Guernsey, Morgan) doesn't have nearly the kind of destitution and sadness that much of the rest of Appalachian Ohio experiences despite the poverty numbers being almost equal.

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I think there is definitely a trend of declining small towns, however where I grew up seems to be holding up just fine.  I grew up in Western Ohio in Mercer County.  Mercer County continues to hold a healthy unemployment rate anywhere from 2.6% - 2.9% depending on the monthly reports.  I actually believe it's been the lowest county in Ohio for quite a few years at this point.  The industry there continues to grow, expand and thrive honestly.  2-3 years ago Ferguson put their first and only distribution operation in Ohio there, after initially passing it up and looking around a bit more, and ultimately deciding to come back and plant roots.  Neighboring Auglaize county also has quite the investment with Crown Equipment Corporation.  In fact, they just announced a $40 million dollar expansion project adding hundreds of jobs.  Celina Tent has grown substantially, even gaining the military contract for Great Britain's armed forces!  I could go on and on about companies like this (CAPT, Pax Machine, Reynolds & Reynolds, etc.....)  When companies is this area are adding even just 40-80 jobs, this goes a long way in a county that is only 40,000-46,000 people.

 

Again, I'm sure many small towns in Ohio are regressing, but I will say I have observed the opposite in terms of many Western Ohio small communities.  They aren't adding population necessarily at 2-7 percent like some cities, but they are holding steady and strong economically.  As much as this site focuses solely on the 3-C's, there is actually quite a bit going on in these rural counties that don't get much publication or notice.  Just my input and observations though.

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^I was caught off guard with how nice Wapakoneta's downtown was. Most of those little I-75 towns are actually in fairly decent shape and have reasonably well-occupied downtowns. Lima's still a bit of a mess (though improving), but Troy, Sidney, Piqua, and the Grand Lake St. Marys towns always impress me. 

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12 minutes ago, BigDipper 80 said:

^I was caught off guard with how nice Wapakoneta's downtown was. Most of those little I-75 towns are actually in fairly decent shape and have reasonably well-occupied downtowns. Lima's still a bit of a mess (though improving), but Troy, Sidney, Piqua, and the Grand Lake St. Marys towns always impress me. 

I live in Columbus now, but get back to my hometown of Celina quite often, and I honestly do highly suggest people take a road trip to some of these towns, get out and explore, walk around, check out the shops and parks, that is if you enjoy that sort of thing.  Between Celina, St. Mary's, & Wapak there is a lot going on.  Even more rural/small like New Bremen, Coldwater, Minster, St. Henry etc....  There is actually pretty awesome micro brew operation that has expanded leaps and bounds in just 2-3 years in little Maria Stein, Ohio, Moeller Brew Barn, their beers are sold all over the state now in stores.  They have an awesome tap room that's fun to visit too.

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From my limited perspective I’d say that things are surprisingly better now than they had been for many small towns in Ohio 5-10 years ago.  I think it will be important for all the communities in Ohio to get their local taxes back from the state with next governor. 

   I’ve been biking the towpath and completed it to Bolivar.  All the towns seem to be in decent shape that I’ve been to. I think it definitely helps having good micro and nano breweries in many of these towns. I’d even say that a sign of a healthy town is that it has a brewery. 

 Northeast Ohio is lucky to have breweries all over the place.  Also with all the farmers markets in NEO plus the fracking a little further south, I’d say these really are the best of times as Ohio runs best on cheap energy. 

 Visited Yellow Springs in June and that place is bumping. Visited Wooster in August for the first time and I’d definitely go back there.  So, I'd say small town NEO is totally fine but yes could be better. 

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18 minutes ago, Gnoraa said:

I live in Columbus now, but get back to my hometown of Celina quite often, and I honestly do highly suggest people take a road trip to some of these towns, get out and explore, walk around, check out the shops and parks, that is if you enjoy that sort of thing.  Between Celina, St. Mary's, & Wapak there is a lot going on.  Even more rural/small like New Bremen, Coldwater, Minster, St. Henry etc....  There is actually pretty awesome micro brew operation that has expanded leaps and bounds in just 2-3 years in little Maria Stein, Ohio, Moeller Brew Barn, their beers are sold all over the state now in stores.  They have an awesome tap room that's fun to visit too.

 

I agree -- but "sprawl" is also a thing in those areas.  I pass through St. Henry regularly and it seems like there's a new further-out suburban-style development every time.  They are obviously doing well, and within commuting distance of a lot of employers outside of St. Henry.  But is it sustainable?

 

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47 minutes ago, Gnoraa said:

I think there is definitely a trend of declining small towns, however where I grew up seems to be holding up just fine.  I grew up in Western Ohio in Mercer County.  Mercer County continues to hold a healthy unemployment rate anywhere from 2.6% - 2.9% depending on the monthly reports.  I actually believe it's been the lowest county in Ohio for quite a few years at this point.  The industry there continues to grow, expand and thrive honestly.  2-3 years ago Ferguson put their first and only distribution operation in Ohio there, after initially passing it up and looking around a bit more, and ultimately deciding to come back and plant roots.  Neighboring Auglaize county also has quite the investment with Crown Equipment Corporation.  In fact, they just announced a $40 million dollar expansion project adding hundreds of jobs.  Celina Tent has grown substantially, even gaining the military contract for Great Britain's armed forces!  I could go on and on about companies like this (CAPT, Pax Machine, Reynolds & Reynolds, etc.....)  When companies is this area are adding even just 40-80 jobs, this goes a long way in a county that is only 40,000-46,000 people.

 

Again, I'm sure many small towns in Ohio are regressing, but I will say I have observed the opposite in terms of many Western Ohio small communities.  They aren't adding population necessarily at 2-7 percent like some cities, but they are holding steady and strong economically.  As much as this site focuses solely on the 3-C's, there is actually quite a bit going on in these rural counties that don't get much publication or notice.  Just my input and observations though.


Mercer and Auglaize may be doing better than Appalachian counties, but I think there are some worrying trends there as well. The population of both is a little less now than it was in 2000. They've seen zero growth in 17 years. In that time the US has grown about 16%. Both have seen their median incomes drop over the last two decades, and both have populations that are aging faster than the US as a whole.

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2 hours ago, YABO713 said:

 

There still are some great small towns, though some would likely be considered exurbs. 

 

Medina, Lebanon, Mount Vernon, Middlefield, and London are still nice and charming rural or exurban towns and cities 

 

A more robust version of the 3c's Ohio Hub rail with the addition of commuter service back and forth between Cincinnati and Dayton would have helped downtown Hamilton and downtown Middletown become commuter suburbs.  No doubt small towns in England, France, Italy, etc. benefit from residents being able to ride trains to job centers.  NPR did an interesting story on the rail "super commuters" in Italy who travel huge distances from their native small towns to Milan, Rome, etc. 

 

 

 

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32 minutes ago, YABO713 said:

^I know someone that commutes from just South of Schenectady NY to NYC everyday on a train

that's crazy. I once worked with someone who commuted from Poughkeepsie, 85 miles away, and I thought that was bad!

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12 minutes ago, eastvillagedon said:

that's crazy. I once worked with someone who commuted from Poughkeepsie, 85 miles away, and I thought that was bad!

 

That's actually somewhat routine. That's one of the extremities of the Metro North Commuter rail district. Just across the river, there's multiple daily commuter buses from New Paltz (site of SUNY campus) to NYC. And then there's the commuter buses from Scranton, PA to NYC....

 

While I don't see the extent of that happening anytime soon, consider these two maps I made nine years ago, comparing Ohio's bus and Amtrak network from 1979 to 2009. Most of the loss of the intercity bus network came as a result of bus de-regulation in 1980, urban sprawl and decline of small town populations. Today, most of the remaining intercity bus services run as expresses between medium/large cities, and even then the frequency of service is much less. While other states experienced similar losses in Greyhound, Trailways, etc. bus services, most larger states like New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and others subsidize rural intercity bus services to a far greater degree than Ohio does. Ohio's subsidized rural bus service is now called GoBus: https://ridegobus.com/

ohio public transit map 1979m.jpg

ohio public transit map 2009m.jpg

Edited by KJP

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Apparently the French TGV system has something of a super-commuter problem that is clogging up capacity originally intended for business and general travel. 

 

This is a huge issue facing the California HSR system.  All of the trains that begin their day in San Francisco will actually originate in tiny Gilroy and all of the northbound trains out of LA will actually originate in Palmdale.  So it's quite likely that a super-commute population will fester in those two cities that will enjoy plenty of empty seats on that early-morning 5:50am inbound train, but then clog all of the 4-6pm trains each afternoon. 

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42 minutes ago, eastvillagedon said:

that's crazy. I once worked with someone who commuted from Poughkeepsie, 85 miles away, and I thought that was bad!

 

 

Leaves his house at 4:15 every morning. 

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Maybe much of rural Ohio outside of the three C's collar counties may be in trouble. I only can think of a few locations in the counties around Franklin that have lost population since 2010. I don't know if it is the same around Cleveland or Cincinnati (but I suspect it is at least partly the case). Maybe if many people are willing to relocate to areas closer to the major cities they would be willing to commute and still have that small town living that many of them want? 

 

I knew of people who commuted from Jackson and Athens to Hilliard to work back in the 90's and I could not imagine that commute. Besides long commutes or relocation, what is the answer for these remote rural areas and small towns? Finding key towns in certain areas of the state (like Athens or Findlay) that are within commuting distance of more of rural Ohio and targeting these areas for development and jobs?  Some special initiative maybe?-something that is well thought out and studied so it won't be just throwing money down a bottomless well?

 

 

Edited by Toddguy
spelling, grammar, the usual suspects.

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21 minutes ago, Toddguy said:

Maybe much of rural Ohio outside of the three C's collar counties may be in trouble. I only can think of a few locations in the counties around Franklin that have lost population since 2010. I don't know if it is the same around Cleveland or Cincinnati (but I suspect it is at least partly the case). Maybe if many people are willing to relocate to areas closer to the major cities they would be willing to commute and still have that small town living that many of them want? 

 

I knew of people who commuted from Jackson and Athens to Hilliard to work back in the 90's and I could not imagine that commute. Besides long commutes or relocation, what is the answer for these remote rural areas and small towns? Finding key towns in certain areas of the state (like Athens or Findlay) that are within commuting distance of more of rural Ohio and targeting these areas for development and jobs?  Some special initiative maybe?-something that is well thought out and studied so it won't be just throwing money down a bottomless well?

 

 

 

I think farmers (not farms) will continue to be less and less in demand - sans seasonal workers for some crops. A single family can now farm successfully what would have taken 20 people in 1960. Beyond that, without transportation infrastructure, there is not much growth opportunity for any of these people 40+ miles from one of the three C's. 

 

It's a shame, and I know this will draw blowback on URBANohio, but there is a certain simplicity to rural America that I find charming and admirable. I understand why people of means used to retreat to country estates on the weekend. Maybe having a garden for the first time this year makes this nostalgic for me, but I really do believe there's much to be admired about a more simple, agrarian lifestyle. I hope that doesn't die out in my generation - though maybe it already has. 

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I don't think you'll get much pushback about finding rural lifestyles to be desirable.  It's the suburban lifestyle that is like a plague of locusts upon our countryside while simultaneously bleeding out our central cities.  Great cities and great countryside go hand-in-hand!

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To survive in those small towns and cities, you need to have a professional degree and/or certification, so that you can work as a doctor, nurse, lawyer, teacher, cosmetologist, plumber, electrician, etc. With training and without too much specialization, I think those small cities can be attractive places to live. One problem is that people often have to leave for their postsecondary education, and many won't return when they get a taste of life outside home. Many do, though. The challenge with any of these small towns is bringing in new people - most mid-sized Ohio cities have had relatively stable populations since the 1960s, after a rapid rise from the baby boom. They aren't dying, but they aren't growing and attracting new people either. A lot of towns in Ohio are stable, and appear prosperous, even though their economies have changed substantially in the last 50 years. The question is whether new people will be attracted to these places over time, or will the cities have to rely on their own tiny hinterlands - people in Mercer county moving to Celina, for example. The places that really suffer are the microtowns, the little dots on the map that have lost schools, churches or any municipal offices. Those places are drying up fast. 

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