Labor churn hits county: State of the Region talk given in Perrysburg

PERRYSBURG – The tight housing market, labor markets and other pandemic-related changing economic needs of Northwest Ohio were analyzed as part of the 20th Annual State of the Region on Monday, held at the Hilton Garden Inn.

The Bowling Green State University Center for Regional Development event topic was “Catalyzing Workforce Development Through Transformative Placemaking.”

“One of the things we’ve seen after the pandemic is quite a bit of churn in the labor force,” said Russell Mills, Ph.D., senior director for the Center for Regional Development Center.

He spoke about workforce market changes, primarily based on publicly available data sources, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census and Federal Reserve reports.

A record high 4.5 million people left their jobs in November 2021, and 4.3 million in December, the last month for which there is data.

In both September and November the quit rate hit record highs of 3%.

“So we are seeing record numbers of people changing jobs,” Mills said.

He said that those quit rates are driving wage growth.

Mills added that while there were 152 million U.S. jobs prior to the pandemic, and that number dropped as low as 130 million, as of Monday’s reports, the number of jobs has risen back to 150 million.

“Basically, there is no unemployment,” in Northwest Ohio, he said. “It’s the tightest labor market we’ve seen in our lifetimes.”

Cost of living in Wood County and through most of Ohio, below the national average, but he added a caveat.

“This is an area of competitive advantage for our region. However, one of the challenges we have is that we have nowhere to put people if they want to take advantage of this cost of living and quality of life we have in Northwest Ohio,” Mills said. “There really is such a tight housing market in Northwest Ohio that it really makes it difficult for people to relocated here.”

Wood County officials reacted to the data.

“One of my biggest takeaways, especially for Bowling Green and for Wood County, is the availability of housing. I think, especially here in Bowling Green, we need to expand our housing so we can get more individuals coming to our area,” Nick Rubando, Bowling Green councilman, said. “Housing is affecting the tight labor market because we need more individuals to actually move and live in Bowling Green and Wood County, and they are not able to come here if they don’t have available housing.”

State Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, suggested possible solutions to the housing problem through transportation sector adjustments.

“If you look at transportation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we need more housing in one area or another. If people can drive from point A to point B, they don’t necessarily need to live where they are working,” Ghanbari said. “So that’s another key area we can focus on as we look at our infrastructure, our roadways, as we look at our investments in all those different areas and molding them in ways that are not just beneficial for one community or county, but beneficial regionally.”

Abbey Omodunbi, assistant vice president and senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group, spoke on economic trends with a more national focus.

Omodunbi contributes to PNC’s regional, national and international economic analysis and forecasts. He attributed most of the recent acceleration in structural economic changes to the pandemic.

“Consumer spending, inventory accumulation and business investment will drive the U.S. economy in 2022,” Omodunbi said.

He also expects that inflationary pressures will moderate this year, with a slower rate of house price growth. Energy prices are expected to continue to rise in the short term, but stabilize in the second half of the year.

Omodunbi added that PNC Economics expects five Federal Reserve rate hikes in 2022 and another three hikes in 2023.

The event keynote speaker was Jennifer Vey, senior fellow and director of the Anne T. and Robert M Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking, Brookings Metro.

She concentrated her remarks on transformative placemaking, an urban design method aimed at integrating small hubs of economic activity into larger urban plans.

Vey discussed how and why cities and regions ought to embrace this theory of change in order to expand economic opportunities and advance the overall physical, social and civic well being of our communities.

“The upshot is that too many places are failing to meet the needs of people,” Vey said. “Placemaking encourages more robust civic structuring.”

In her research, she focuses on the hyper-local approach to “place-design,” advocating for a more integrated and place-centered approach.

She also suggested that many of the problems we are seeing in communities started years before COVID-19, but that the pandemic accelerated some of the problems.

“The digital revolution is also causing some very disruptive impacts on our growth and our development patterns,” Vey said.

Productivity rises with primary city center density, in that dense locations result in greater innovation. That is reflected in a desire for walkability in local communities.

She also presented a wide array of demographic information about these small communities.

“These spatial disparities, I think we all know, are created and reinforced by decades of housing a land-use policies and practices and values that segregated and sometimes destroyed communities and neighborhoods dominated by people of color,” Vey said.

She said that the trends reinforced previous trends, sometimes for decades.

It also resulted in housing policies that forced people away from walkable communities, adding “Our main housing affordability policy is sprawl.

She then gave examples of communities and neighbor meeting areas she had studied, such as Wytheville, Virginia, and 11th Street Bridge Park, Washington, D.C.

Some of the policies that worked to create placemaking included increasing connectivity between neighborhoods, investment in local businesses, tracking who uses public spaces and who doesn’t, pedestrian and cycling corridors and using parks as community anchors.

She went on to moderate a panel discussion with local activists Set Baker, chief executive officer for the Van Wert County Foundation, and Marc Folk, president and chief executive officer for the Arts Commission.