From Akron to Zanesville: How Are Ohio’s Small and Mid-Sized Legacy Cities Faring?

Ohio’s small and mid-sized legacy cities—older industrial cities with populations greater than 20,000 situated in metropolitan areas with less than 1 million residents—are important contributors to Ohio’s economy and social fabric. Like Ohio’s larger legacy cities—Cincinnati and Cleveland—these cities faced decades of serious challenges stemming from population loss and the decline of large-scale manufacturing that were further compounded by the Great Recession.

GOPC conducted an analysis into how the economic health of small and mid-sized legacy cities compared to Ohio’s larger legacy cities and Columbus, the state’s only major non-legacy city, from 2000 to 2014. Key findings include:

  • Ohio’s small and mid-sized cities and their regions have struggled with decades of population loss and declines in their core manufacturing industries—just like their larger legacy city peers, Cleveland and Cincinnati. But the impact of the Great Recession further stalled recovery in smaller cities, as conditions in these cities continue to decline and impact their communities and surrounding areas.
  • Columbus’ relatively strong economic and population growth masks the challenges of Ohio’s other cities when looking at state-level data and trends.
  • Suburban and exurban areas outside of the mid-sized cities show troubling signs of instability in terms of population decline, economic health, and housing market strength.
  • Mid-sized Ohio cities—Akron, Dayton, Toledo, Canton and Youngstown—have experienced some of the steepest declines in housing market stability of all city types.
  • On the whole the smallest legacy cities experienced the greatest declines in economic health of any city type, even though conditions among these cities vary more widely than their larger peers.
  • Legacy Ohio cities of all sizes continue to experience serious population loss.

The trends shown in this report do not have to be these cities’ destinies. Forging a policy agenda directed at smaller and medium-sized places can reset these cities’ economies and fast-track their paths to recovery. The recommendations included in the report are:

  • Implement of long- and short-term strategies focused on sustaining strong neighborhoods.
  • Develop strategies building on each city’s unique local assets to stimulate economic development.
  • Encourage regional collaborations to promote investments in downtown cores.
  • Tailor state interventions to account for differing local conditions and avoid “one size fits all” policies.