Ohio cities subsidize sprawl through business relocation incentives: study

Lucrative property tax breaks to relocate businesses have helped fuel suburban sprawl in Cleveland and Cincinnati, according to a new report from Good Jobs First. The subsidized relocation has pushed jobs out of the urban core and has affected an estimated 14,500 workers, while contributing to widening gaps in wealth and opportunity in the cities.

These findings are outlined in the new study, “Paid to Sprawl: Subsidized Job Flight from Cleveland and Cincinnati.” Funded by the Ford Foundation, it’s the largest study of subsidized relocation ever conduction in the United States.

The study examined tax incentives and business relocations in the Cleveland and Cincinnati metro areas – and the findings are striking. In Cleveland, four-fifths of the business relocations were outbound and moved jobs an average of five miles outside the city center. Pushing jobs further from the city center makes them less accessible or inaccessible by transit, thereby decreasing job opportunities for workers who rely on public transportation to get to work.

A series of maps from Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Planning Commission illustrate how metro Cleveland has sprawled out over the last decades. The first map shows how much land was developed in Cleveland in 1948:

Photo: Cuyahoga County Planning Commission

And despite the fact that Cleveland’s population remained basically the same over the next 50 years, this how much land was developed by 2002:

Photo: Cuyahoga County Planning Commission

Subsidies were not wholly responsible for this change, of course, but as the new findings reveal they played a significant contributing factor.

While less drastic, the trend of businesses relocating outside the city center also holds true in the Cincinnati metro area. Thirty businesses moved from sites that were transit accessible to areas of the city that are not, while only eight did the opposite. The majority of these moves happened from 1996-2005.

To turn the tide of sprawling business relocation, Good Jobs First’s study suggests a number of policy changes. The suggestions include creating cooperation systems among local officials and anti-poaching protocols, requiring costs and benefits of all economic development deals be disclosed online, and making access to transit a requirement for metro areas businesses subsidy applicants.

Visit www.goodjobsfirst.org to download the full report.

Study indicates subsidized business relocations fuel sprawl in Cleveland area [Crain’s Cleveland, July 8, 2011]