COLUMBUS, Ohio—In a surprising turn, Ohio’s rural counties of Wyandot and Holmes topped the job growth rate of Columbus between 2010 and 2018, according to an economist with The Ohio State University.
And other rural counties including Harrison and Morgan nearly matched Columbus’ job growth rate during that same period, said Mark Partridge, an economics professor at Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
Columbus, typically the state’s front-runner for job growth, experienced 18% job growth between 2010 and 2018, but Wyandot’s was 23% and Holmes’ was 20%. Both Morgan (16%) and Harrison (17%) counties’ job growth rates were just slightly less than the Columbus rate.
“Rural Ohio is definitely not considered on life support,” said Partridge, who is also chair of the C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy at CFAES.
Among Ohio’s metro areas, Columbus tops the list for its job growth rate between 2010 and 2018, followed by Cincinnati (11%), Toledo and Dayton/Kettering (tied at 8%), and Canton/Massillon and Akron (tied at 7%), Partridge said.
Partridge was the keynote speaker at the May 8 Spring 2019 Outlook and Policy Conference “Challenges and Opportunities for Economic Development in Ohio” hosted by the CFAES Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics (AEDE) on Ohio State’s Columbus campus.
Another speaker at the event, Zoë Plakias, an assistant professor of agricultural, environmental, and development economics at CFAES, proposed that communities investing in producing local food consider some trade-offs and think about how their efforts will benefit their areas in the long run.
That’s partly because producing locally might not be the cheapest or most efficient way for a product to be made, Plakias said.
“The reason we moved away from local food systems in the first place was because particular regions of the country and world are really good at producing certain things,” she said.
So, relocalizing a food system needs to produce other benefits that outweigh these costs, Plakias said.
One key benefit that can come from locally and regionally developed food systems, including food co-ops and farmers markets, is that they’re social gathering spaces in communities and are, therefore, considered assets to an area, Plakias said.
Environmental benefits are also possible, she pointed out. But it depends on what the resources, like land, were used for before and whether the local food is produced sustainably, she said. For example, if a farm that was producing a crop using sustainable practices for markets outside Ohio switches to producing that crop for local markets, the environmental benefits will be small, she said.
“It turns out that the environmental impacts from transporting food long distances tend to be relatively small for common modes of transport like trucking,” Plakias said.
Local food production, from craft beer to strawberries, has gained in popularity in part because consumers have lost some trust in larger food companies that might not tell consumers where their food is coming from or how it’s produced, Plakias said.
But there’s always competition from large retail food chains trying to meet the consumer desire to buy locally. Large retail grocery chains carry locally grown produce, and chain restaurants are already making a point to show which farm the ingredients for their food came from. This could hurt independently owned stores, restaurants, and other establishments that are based in the community, Plakias said.
“As regions invest in local food systems, they need to recognize there’s going to be this increasing effort by large food companies to get on that bandwagon,” she said.