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With the 'right policies' in place, Cincinnati Chamber predicts ambitious population growth

Cincinnati skyline with traffic
Jake Blucker

A new report from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber says the area could add around 615,000 new residents by 2050, but only with the "right policies" to promote growth.

The 2023 State of the Region report offers an in-depth analysis of data on population, jobs and the economy; health, housing, and more. It was published Tuesday from the chamber's Center for Research and Data.

The "pro-growth" population estimate says the 16-county metro area could reach nearly 2.9 million people by 2050, compared to 2.3 million as of the 2020 Census. The region includes five Ohio counties (Hamilton, Butler, Warren, Clermont, Brown); seven Kentucky counties (Kenton, Boone, Campbell, Grant, Pendleton, Gallatin, Bracken); and four Indiana counties (Dearborn, Franklin, Union, Ohio).

An alternate scenario predicts how "the wrong policies" could affect the Cincinnati metro.

"What if we take actions to become a more welcoming, inviting region?" said Center for Research and Data Director Brandon Rudd. "What if we take actions like zoning reform to allow more housing to be built in the region? Make the right transportation investments? What's possible? And this is actually a pretty conservative scenario of where we could go."

Without changing policies like that, the report says the Cincinnati metro would start losing population by 2040, and would only add 15,000 net residents by 2050.

RELATED: Cincinnati grew slightly faster than surrounding suburbs last year

Council Member Reggie Harris says that kind of change is possible.

"We need a culture of 'yes' in the city, like, 'yes, how do we remove barriers? Yes, we should do this...' " he said. "And frankly, Cincinnati is not a culture of 'yes.' Cincinnati is a culture of like, 'hmmmmm....should we?' "

Some of the fastest growing populations in the Cincinnati region are Asian and Hispanic groups.

Top five countries of origin for foreign-born population:

  1. India
  2. Mexico
  3. China
  4. Guatemala
  5. Philippines

The report compares the region to 21 other peer cities, including close neighbors like Columbus, Indianapolis, Dayton, and Louisville. Population size ranges from about 518,000 (Lexington, Ky.) to about 7.9 million (Dallas, Tex.); Cincinnati is 11th on the list at about 2.3 million.
The Cincinnati metro outranks peer cities in some key indicators, and falls to the bottom of the list in others. For example, the region ranks 11 out of 22 for regional real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but ranks fourth for regional exports.

RELATED: Greater Cincinnati is attracting more workers from larger cities, Chamber study says

The area is in the middle in terms of five-year job growth, but has the fifth lowest total jobs per capita because the region also ranks low in prime working age population. In other words, 38.1% of the metro population is between the ages of 25-54, compared to close to 50% for top-ranking San Jose, Calif.

Here are the region’s top employers by employee count:

  1. Kroger (20,000)
  2. Cincinnati Children’s (18,502)
  3. TriHealth (12,096)
  4. University of Cincinnati (11,141)
  5. St. Elizabeth Healthcare (10,353)
  6. UC Health (9,816)
  7. Procter & Gamble (9,700)
  8. GE Aerospace (7,500)
  9. Mercy Health (7,500)
  10. Fifth Third Bank (7,000)

Cincinnati is above the national average for median household income and per capital personal income.
The median Black household in the Cincinnati metro area makes nearly 39-thousand dollars less than the median white household.

Barb Smith, president of Journey Steel, says local employers need to be proactive about change.

"We have went into the inner city schools, and we've plucked out those individuals that won't go to college for one reason or another," Smith said. "And we're spending our money and our time training them so that they can begin to fabricate, they can work in the construction industry. Which ... by the time they're 22 their all-in compensation package is $125,000. That's changing, that's making an impact."

The region has one of the smallest racial unemployment gaps compared to other mid-size cities. But the unemployment rate for Black residents in the Cincinnati metro (8.5%) is still nearly double that of white residents (4.5%)

The Cincinnati metro’s violent crime rate is the second lowest, higher only than Pittsburgh, Pa. The area has the third lowest property crime rate. But life expectancy in the region is below the national average, and life expectancy differs dramatically depending on where in the area you live.

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"A Warren County resident can expect to live to about 79.2 years. In Gallatin County, a resident could expect to live to just 72.8 years, presenting a gap of 6.4 years," the report says. "At the neighborhood level, there is an even wider gap. In some cases that gap is more than 20 years, and in at least one case it is about 26 years."

See the full report below.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.