Columbus’s Economic and Transportation Assets Can Position Region to Overcome Recession, Poor Infrastructure Investments

CHICAGO (May 23, 2011)—Despite a persistent high unemployment rate and a history of inefficient development, Columbus has the economic and transportation assets to foster sustainable future growth, according to a new analysis of Columbus’s regional economy by the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). The analysis found that the proposed North Corridor light rail line would enable the city to capitalize on national real estate trends when the economy and housing market rebound. It also found that attracting industrial and logistics businesses to South Columbus would allow the region to take advantage of the expanding freight rail industry.

“The Columbus region generates a fifth of the state’s economic activity but its development patterns over the years have undermined rather than reinforced its sizable economy,” said Scott Bernstein, president of CNT. “Central Ohio is at a turning point. It can continue with the status quo, stretching jobs and people farther and farther apart, or the city can forge a new path.”

The Columbus report is part of a broader partnership with CNT, then-Governor Ted Strickland’s administration and nearly 50 leaders from the public, private, and non-profit sectors in Columbus. The two-year project analyzed the economic development opportunities in Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

Specifically, the Columbus report documented that:

  • Since 2000, homebuilders constructed 43,000 more units than the market could support.
  • Residents spend $6.1 billion per year to pay for transportation, with gas costs alone draining $817 million from the local economy. As Columbus residents face gas prices of $4 per gallon, their spending on gasoline alone could surge beyond $2.2 billion a year if their travel patterns stay the same.
  • Auto-dependent, high-transportation-cost neighborhoods have as many as 3 in 10 properties with a second mortgage or a home equity loan.
  • Retirees and young professionals are projected to demand more compact development through 2030, but as a whole these kinds of developments are in short supply in Columbus.
  • National investors rank Central Ohio poorly as a market for multifamily and mixed use development.

The CNT report identified several strategies that Columbus could implement to promote growth that is more efficient for household, business, and municipal budgets. The strategies include:

  • Moving forward with the proposed North Corridor light rail line. The North Corridor would connect downtown to Ohio State University, which represents 163,693 jobs, the second largest concentration of employment in Ohio.
  • Encourage transit-oriented development along High Street to connect people from neighborhoods south of downtown to OSU and points farther north.
  • Promote cargo-oriented development (COD). Columbus has two intermodal freight terminals—Rickenbacker Yard to the south and Buckeye Yard to the west. The region can capitalize on this intermodal advantage and attract industrial and logistics businesses that would benefit by locating near multiple modes of freight transportation, complementary firms, and a ready workforce.
  • Direct public investments in housing in areas where the combined cost of housing and transportation do not exceed 45 percent of household income. CNT’s Housing + Transportation Affordability Index analysis found that less expensive housing costs in communities outside of I-270 often have transportation costs that meet or exceed the cost of housing.

“The region’s economic development efforts need to refocus on investments that make the region more economically and environmentally resilient,” said María Choca Urban, CNT’s director of Transportation and Community Development. “The prevailing development patterns of the past contributed to the current economic situation of foreclosures, recession and unemployment.”

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CONTACT:
Emily Robinson, Center for Neighborhood Technology, erobinson@cnt.org, 773-269-4043

Founded in 1978, CNT is a Chicago-based think-and-do tank that works nationally to advance urban sustainability by researching, inventing and testing strategies that use resources more efficiently and equitably. Its programs focus on climate, energy, natural resources, transportation, and community development. Visit www.cnt.org for more information.