Ohio Is Partying Like It’s 2000

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- There were an estimated 5,625,700 nonfarm payroll jobs in Ohio in August, according to (seasonally adjusted) data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s just 10,900 jobs short of the all-time Ohio record set in … May 2000.

Ohio Is Partying Like It’s 2000

Sometime this fall, then, Ohio employment looks set to finally set another record. That is in part an indication of just how awful the first decade of this millennium was for the Buckeye State — only neighboring Michigan had it worse, with employment in August still 256,300 short of its 2000 peak. But it’s also a sign that the current economic expansion has been, relatively speaking, pretty great for the nation’s seventh-most-populous state.

On the first stop of a cross-country road trip, I spent Monday in the state capital and biggest city, Columbus, where downtown is full of renovation projects and new construction — not to mention fleets of Bird and Lime electric scooters that suddenly appeared in July — and the businesspeople I talked with oozed optimism. Then, on Tuesday, after a brief visit to Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s vast manufacturing complex northwest of the city, I headed west down a two-lane state highway expecting to see the usual signs of rural economic distress and instead came across a pair of improbably prosperous-looking small towns.

So Ohio’s back, right?!? Well, it turned out that the westward route that navigation app Waze had chosen for me (I was on the way to Muncie, Indiana) just happened to go by the headquarters of two successful manufacturers that have bucked the trends of the past two decades and stuck to their small-town U.S. roots: iconic silver-trailer maker Airstream Inc. in Jackson Center, and forklift manufacturer Crown Equipment Corp. in New Bremen. As for Columbus, there’s really no other city or metropolitan area in Ohio like it.

Cleveland, once the biggest city in the state and seventh-biggest in the U.S., now has less than half of Columbus’s population. Its metropolitan area has been losing population, too, and as of last year it has slipped to third-largest in the state behind metro Columbus. Metropolitan Cincinnati (which includes counties in Indiana and Kentucky) is No. 1, and it’s growing, but not very fast. The struggles of Dayton, center of the state’s fourth-largest metro area, were the subject of a Frontline/ProPublica report last week on “Left Behind America.”

Ohio, then, is a state operating at several different speeds, some of them in reverse. To illustrate, Bloomberg Opinion’s Elaine He assembled this map of employment change in the state since 2001 (the earliest year for which county jobs data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages is readily available): 

Ohio Is Partying Like It’s 2000

The Columbus metro area — home to the state government, the flagship university, and big finance and retail sectors — has seen job growth all around. In the other major metropolitan areas, it’s mainly just the suburban counties that have experienced it. Most of the state’s counties have lost ground.

There have also of course been big shifts in what people do. Here are the sectors with the biggest job losses and gains in the state since May 2000:

Ohio Is Partying Like It’s 2000

Declining employment in manufacturing is a nationwide thing, although Ohio had a lot more manufacturing employment than most states to start with. Rising employment in food services and health care is a nationwide thing, too. As for the increase in people working in “management of companies and enterprises,” that’s nationwide, too, and it has a lot to do with changes in how businesses are organized, as it covers holding companies, private equity firms and the like that can’t otherwise be assigned to a single industry. It is perhaps an indication that Ohio remains a place where lots of businesses are headquartered.

Ohio is no longer a place, though, that can consider itself more affluent than the country as a whole. In fact, it hasn’t been for a long time. State per capita personal income last topped the national average in 1969.

Ohio Is Partying Like It’s 2000

Still, Ohio incomes are up a little against the national average over the past decade. We may well be witnessing an Ohio renaissance. It just has a really long way to go.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”

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