Tiajuan Lewis, 68, recently retired from the Area Agency on Aging in the Canton area, said that young people with options are leaving.

"It seems to me that the [communities] that are shrinking, it's because the parents get their kids a really good education and then when they get educated, they just leave," Lewis told the Canton Repository. "They give up on Ohio and just go somewhere else.

"I would say in anybody's community the one thing that needs to be done is that people need to accept each other for who they are …," Lewis said. "And love each other. We breathe the same air."

In Warren, Logan Reinard, 29, started a coffee shop in 2017 on the Trumbull County courthouse square. His county has lost one of every three jobs since 1997 peak employment.

"There are a lot of reasons why some areas succeed and others don't," Reinard told the Warren Tribune Chronicle. "It depends what you’re surrounded by."

Reinard said people, especially younger people, don't want to move into areas that aren't surrounded by amenities they desire. Areas that have a "mindset of excellence" tend to succeed.

A new initiative by media organizations statewide aims to get Ohio residents talking about what it will take for their communities to combat the challenges they face and thrive.

More than 40 TV and radio stations, daily and weekly newspapers and online news organizations have joined in the Your Voice Ohio project to launch statewide conversations, asking Ohioans to define a vibrant community. What makes it tick, and how can each community move in the direction of vibrancy.

Are there new ways to stop the decline in Ohio communities? Should success be redefined? Who should act?

The Your Voice Ohio project will explore jobs, population, home values, quality of life, tax abatement and issues that Ohioans suggest we pursue.

There will be community meetings in which journalists will sit with area residents to gain a better understanding of how lives have changed and the solutions needed.

The first round of meetings begins Sunday in Southwest Ohio and will end in Northeast Ohio the following week. Summit County meetings are planned for Oct. 1 in Akron and Oct. 2 in Stow.

Economic challenges

As Ohio’s communities — and its residents — try to move forward, they’ll have to confront some persistent economic obstacles.

Recession after recession for generations, Ohio rebounded from hard times, but not anymore. Not only has the state failed to rebound from the Great Recession, data show it has yet to recover from the 2001 recession.

Nearly two decades ago, Ohio median household income hit its peak and since then has plunged as much as $10,000 during the Great Recession and remains $6,000 below the 2000 census. That’s money out of household pockets for car repairs, health care emergencies, food and education.

The statewide median household income last year was $54,021, compared to $60,336 in the U.S., according to census data.

Summit County — with a median household income last year of $55,419 — also lagged behind the U.S.

Household incomes continued to decline last year in 16 of the 39 counties for which data was available, according to an analysis of data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau. (Numbers were released only for counties with populations of more than 65,000.)

Among those were many of Ohio’s major urban counties — Cuyahoga, Stark, Montgomery, Butler, Clark, Trumbull and Mahoning.

There are other signs of economic woes.

In the final 2017 jobs data, Ohio is short 152,000 from its peak in 2000. That’s more jobs than there are people living in Dayton, Ohio’s sixth-largest city. The jobs decline occurred at the same time the nation’s largest generation, the millennials, came of age.

And, while the nation’s population grew 16 percent since the 2000 census, Ohio edged up only 3 percent.

 

Doug Oplinger is a retired managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal and now leads the Your Voice Ohio media participants. He can be emailed at doplinger@yourvoiceohio.org Contributing to this story were former Beacon Journal reporter David Knox; the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which paid for Knox’s data work; The Canton Repository and the Warren Tribune Chronicle.