Over the Last Three Years, Ohio Is Among the Out-Migration States Losing Population
With most of the competitor states being right-to-work and having lower or no state income taxes, Ohio isn’t positioned to win the talent war for all of the workers every one of those projects needs.
It is hard to believe, I know, but I’ve rarely been wrong when it comes to interpreting data, as I try very hard to get it right and I check and recheck before publishing my data. Keep in mind, I’m not a politician trying to promote my administration or denigrate my opponent. I do my level best to call it as I see it. That irritates politicians and their “see-hear-speak no evil” adherents. No one got more irritated with me than former Governor John Kasich. In addition to siccing his pitbull staff on me whenever I criticized his administration (which I did a lot given how bad it was), he actually did it sort of to my face once.
I say "sort of" because even though I was standing three feet away from him just outside the Key Bank Building in downtown Columbus, he didn’t want to elevate me by telling me directly what was on his mind. Instead, he said it to the person I was with to then tell me. I’m totally serious. This story is true. My older colleague told me as Kasich walked away that the data in a report we had just put out was wrong. He didn’t say how or why it was wrong. Given I had checked the data numerous times (and would have a staffer check it again), I knew it was right. Unbelievably, within seconds of my colleague passing along Kasich’s message, Kasich walked back up to us, pulled my colleague aside again, and told him again to tell me something we had done was wrong. It wasn’t.
I tell this story because I often get pushback from my pieces when someone doesn’t like which politician I’ve taken to the data woodshed. Most recently, it happened on the issue of Ohio’s population. So, I thought I’d address the issue with the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Based on estimates, it looks like Ohio may have added about 26,000 people in 2023. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean Ohio gained people via in-migration, as it could have been births outpaced deaths; rather, it just means on net, Ohio grew a tiny bit, especially compared to other states that experienced six-figure population growth.
How does the situation look since the last U.S. census? Not good. From 2000 to 2023, Ohio LOST just over 13,000 people, which isn’t as bad as New York (-631,104), California (-573,019), or Illinois (-263,780). That loss put Ohio 41st among the states over those three years, as in the bottom ten (again). Texas (1,357,842) and Florida (1,072,510) occupied the top two spots for positive growth, with another thirty-five states gaining rather than losing people. As a point of comparison, Texas gained roughly as many people in the last three years as Ohio did since 1967 and Florida gained as many as Ohio has added since 1971. Those data points so blow your mind and erase ANY doubt about how weak Ohio is due to decades of failed policy leadership at the top.
I know Mike DeWine and Jon Husted have put an enormous amount of their hopes on Intel becoming the Honda of this century. Let’s hope it does. The problem is the competition to be on the edge of innovation isn’t static. Other states with far better business environments are also pushing aggressively to establish themselves as technology leaders with the workforce talent to deliver. On that front, Ohio isn’t even in the game. In fact, as the map below shoes, Columbus isn’t even ON THE MAP and Cleveland and Cincinnati appear to have LOST ground over the last three years.
Not surprisingly, the states adding large numbers of people are also the states winning the technology war. Three cities in Texas—Austin, Dallas, and Houston—are winning, as are Miami, Atlanta, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Seattle. Perhaps Intel will alter this map once it is actually up and running, but don’t forget there are similar technology hubs being built in Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, California, and New York. Some of those projects are much bigger than Intel. With most of those competitor states being right-to-work states and having lower or no state income taxes, Ohio isn’t positioned to win the talent war for all of the workers every one of those projects will be fighting over.
Even worse, all of those projects may falter due to required reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which on average take 4.5 years to be completed. As of now, the legislation to exempt those projects from NEPA review is languishing in Congress. The problem for Ohio is that our savior technology company is Intel, which is probably in the weakest position of all the technology companies, as it has been bleeding market share and cash for years. It cannot afford a 4.5 year wait like most of the other companies.
One of the reasons I’ve consistently opposed economic development initiatives like JobsOhio in which bureaucrats or quasi-bureaucrats pick winners and losers by throwing cash at them is that those bureaucrats have such a piss-poor track record of actually picking the right winners and turning down the right losers. More importantly, I oppose JobsOhio and its ilk because those entities allow politicians to avoid doing the fundamental reforms (i.e., tough stuff) needed to make the entire business climate in the state better. With lazy media members like we have in Ohio, politicians can turn up at ribbon cutting ceremonies and stick a golden shovel in the ground to get credit for “creating jobs” without much negative coverage when the project fails to live up to the hype behind it.
Instead of spending $2 billion to bribe Intel to come to Ohio, Ohioans, especially those outside of the Greater Columbus area who won’t benefit from Intel, would have been far better served had its elected officials kept spending down so the state income tax could have been eliminated, passed a right-to-work law, built a world-class airport in Ohio to attract businesses and people, and tackled local government consolidation so any de minimus cuts in the state income tax weren’t replaced by local tax hikes on our incomes, properties, and/or consumption, which is exactly what happened in Ohio over the last year.
I truly hope someday Ohioans stop electing career politicians with such weak track records of success and put leaders in charge who have the backbone to fight the big fights. If they don’t, Ohio will remain a dead state walking no matter how successful Intel is.