The Greater Ohio Policy Center (GOPC), a non-profit and non-partisan organization, visited Portsmouth Tuesday in order to take a look at issues affecting legacy cities and potentials for implementation of smart growth policies.
“A legacy city is another way of talking about an older industrial city, so a place where manufacturing was the primary economic driver for most of its history, and in most cases, the manufacturing industry isn’t as much of an employer as it was in the past” Manager of Research and Policy Torey Hollingsworth explained. “Also, we define legacy cities to be places that have lost population.”
The population loss looked at by the GOPC focuses on loss that has occurred through the mid 50s and 60s through to present day.
Hollingsworth added that GOPC is a state-wide organization focused on urban revitalization and sustainable growth.
“We’ve been especially interested in smaller legacy cities, so places that have between about 20,000 people to about 250,000 people,” she explained.
Thus, Portsmouth, with its industrial background and small population was ideal.
“We’re interested in those places because we realize that the State’s long-term health depends on all of our cities being strong, and the bigger cities have some access to resources that the smaller ones don’t,” Hollingsworth stated. “So, we’re here in Portsmouth, talking to people to understand more about what their challenges and opportunities are, what local priorities are in terms of community development and economic development. We’ve actually been traveling around the state this summer and going to other cities that fit that smaller legacy city description to try to understand more what the common threads are in terms of those challenges and opportunities with the hope of thinking about ways the state could support these cities more and also ways that these cities can learn from one another.”
She added that with this information, the GOPC is then able to advocate for those cities at the State level.
One of the most common trends Hollingsworth explained finding is that many of these cities have historic downtowns such as Portsmouth’s Historic Boneyfiddle.
“They really are, a lot of time, intact downtowns with a lot of cool spaces that have a lot of opportunities for new businesses, shops or restaurants – places where people like to gather,” the researcher commented.
Shawnee State University (SSU) Sociology Professor Sean Dunne explained that he first started discussing Portsmouth with members of the GOPC when attending a conference earlier in the year.
“I met the former CEO of the Greater Ohio Policy Center when I attended the Between Coasts conference at Denison University in January,” Dunne explained. “I was put in touch with current staff after I discussed the recent community work I have done in Portsmouth and my current campaign to represent the First Ward on city council. The center reached out to me when they were planning a visit to Portsmouth. I also arranged for them to meet with the Scioto Foundation and the Southern Ohio Port Authority.”
All of these entities then had a chance to discuss what they feel are important for the state to know about cities such as Portsmouth.
“During my meeting, I highlighted the positive change that many members of our community have enacted and other recent developments in our area … ,” Dunne stated.
GOPC was able to provide some 2015 data about employment and housing. With a total population of 20,376, 6.5 percent were unemployed; however, only 48 percent participate in the labor force.
GOPC defines participation in the labor force as “[t]he percentage of people over the age of 16 who are actively employed or are looking for a job. This means that anyone who is retired, in school full time, or unable to work due to a disability would not be captured in this percentage. For a point of comparison, Columbus’s labor force participation rate in 2015 was 70 percent.”
GOPC data did not include information regarding the number of individuals receiving public assistance.
According to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s 2017 Ohio Housing Needs Assessment, “[s]tatewide, 5.6 percent of Ohio households received Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provides added income for low-income children and adults with disabilities along with low-income older adults aged 65 and older. As with disability overall, the highest rates of recipiency were in the south central part of the state; one in eight households in Scioto County was on SSI, compared with one in 53 in Delaware County.”
The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services reports that for fiscal year 2017, there are 1,233 recipients of Ohio Works First (OWF) assistance in Scioto County. OWF offers cash assistance to needy families.
OGPC found the median household income in Portsmouth was $27,253 with a per capita income of $17,235. This is far below state and national figures. According the US Census for 2015, the median household income for the State of Ohio was $51,075 and the national median household income was $55,775.
When looking at housing, GOPC found that the median housing value in Portsmouth is $71,400. Five percent of housing units in the City have been designated long-term vacant.
“This percentage is derived by GOPC by looking at the percentage of housing units that the Census defines as ‘other vacant,’” Hollingsworth explained. “These units are vacant, but not due to any normal market activity like being on the market or being used only seasonally. That means this number captures housing units that are vacant and likely abandoned.”
For more information about GOPC and the work done in smaller legacy cities such as Portsmouth, visit www.greaterohio.org.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.