Wednesday, August 6, 2008

To Forbes Magazine: Reports of our Death are Greatly Exaggerated

An editorial

Cleveland makes another list, this one from Forbes Magazine, calling Cleveland one of “America’s Fastest-Dying Cities”.

More specifically, in the pictorial summary of the cities, they list the area as the “Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio, metropolitan statistical area.” And I am not quite sure of the location of photo of Cleveland that they used (see below), but it hardly represents the region. (If they wanted to make us look bad, they should have used the Howard Johnson’s building.)

If the people from Forbes Magazine read this blog, they would know there is a lot more to Cleveland than one desolate looking photograph. In fact, I would venture to say that Forbes Magazine knows nothing about the Cleveland area at all.

I was born in Cleveland, and I happen to live in Mentor, and I can verify there is a lot of life in this area. Maybe if Forbes Magazine measured attendance in the sports venues such as The Q, Progressive Field, and Cleveland Browns Stadium, they wouldn’t see evidence of a dying city. More examples of healthy life are: the booming medical facilities and the fact that people come here from around the world for health care; the recent renovations at the Cleveland Museum of Art; The Euclid Corridor Project; the wonderful Lake Erie life, Cleveland’s beautiful architecture; The Cleveland Metroparks; University Circle; a world-class orchestra; well, I could go on and on. Of course, let’s not forget that my current hometown of Mentor is far from dead, thank you. Mentor is 6th in retail sales for Ohio, there are many new homes continuing to be built to meet demand of a growing population, and we have a lot of tourism. When I navigate traffic on Mentor Avenue on a daily basis, I frequently see license plates from out of state and Canada. This city is quite alive.

Here’s what Forbes had to say:

“America’s Fastest-Dying Cities”.

Joshua Zumbrun 08.05.08, 6:00 AM ET

Washington, D.C. - The turmoil of the mortgage market granted a temporary reprieve from hearing about the woes of America's Rust Belt. That doesn't mean things are better. Despite a decade of national prosperity, the former manufacturing backbone of the U.S. is in rougher shape than ever, still searching for some way to replace its long-stilled smokestacks.

Where's it worst? Ohio, according to our analysis, which racked up four of the 10 cities on our list: Youngstown, Canton, Dayton and Cleveland. The runner-up is Michigan, with two cities--Detroit and Flint--making the ranking.

These, and four other metropolitan statistical areas, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, face fleeing populations, painful waves of unemployment and barely growing economies. By our measure, they've struggled the worst of any areas in the nation in the 21st century. And they face even bleaker futures.

It wasn't always this way. Despite years of economic decline, in the first years of the new century the employment situation did not look so bad--3% to 4% unemployment was the norm, along the lines of metropolitan areas elsewhere in the country. The rest of the decade was not so kind. Thanks to a crushing downturn for automakers like General Motors and Ford, Detroit and Flint, Mich., have seen unemployment approach 10%.

Another brutal statistic all the cities share is a diminishing population. So far this decade, 115,000 people have left Cleveland, for other climes. Smaller changes in other regions can be just as painful. Nearly 30,000 people have left Youngstown, Ohio, and they aren't being replaced by either new babies or new immigrants.

Still, the cities we found to be struggling don't vary widely by age, and this factor had little influence in the rankings. The oldest city in our top 10, Scranton, Pa., had 45% of its population over 45; the youngest, Flint had 38% over 45.

The worst news is, of course, economic. When we looked at the most recent gross domestic product estimates for 155 metropolitan statistical areas estimated to have $10 billion or more GDP in 2005--economies about the size of Asheville, N.C., or Tallahassee, Fla.--the news was predictably terrible for the Rust Belt.

In the fall of 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) published its GDP estimates from 2001 to 2005. Nearly every city in the country grew during this period (New Orleans, devastated from Hurricane Katrina, was the notable exception), but the struggling cities on our list grew more sluggishly. None of them grew more than 1.9% a year, versus a nationwide average of 2.7%. Canton, Ohio, managed to grow its economy just 0.7% annually. Flint was worse still at 0.4%.

None of these cities now face the huge declines in real estate prices seen by Phoenix, Miami or Las Vegas, where the Case-Shiller Home Price Index shows nearly 30% declines from a year ago. Detroit is off only about 15%, Cleveland only 8%. Don't call it a bright spot. Prices never went up in the first place.


Cleveland’s health is a lot more than just a few statistics like population, unemployment, or mortgage trouble. Sure, the city and the area suffer from those problems, but that doesn’t mean that those people who remain, or who are working here, or whose homes haven’t been foreclosed, are letting the city or the metro area die. It’s superficial lists like Forbes' that do more harm to a city’s reputation than anything else. A city is more than just the sum of a few statistics, it’s about the people who live there and the care, feeding, and support they give to their city. And while Cleveland may be poor right now in things like jobs or with mortgage foreclosures, we aren’t even close to needing life support.

But I think we should all pull the plug on Forbes Magazine, don't you?

Check out my blog home page for the latest Cleveland information, here.

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