Columbus’ Shrinking Annexation

Ever wonder how Columbus got so big in area? Its city limits stretch into parts of other counties and include about a third of Franklin County. Today, it has a reputation for annexing its way to growth, but how true is this?

Well, 50 years ago, it was more or less true. Today, not so much. Aggressive annexation began in Columbus in 1953, when Mayor Maynard “Jack” Sensenbrenner began his policy of requiring annexation into the city if communities wanted city water service. Between 1953 and 1960, the area size of the city more than doubled, and that rate continued through the 1960s and 1970s, even after Sensenbrenner was no longer mayor. After 1980, annexation rates gradually began to decline.

As the chart above shows, you can see the rapid rate of growth during the 1950s-1970s and the decline in more recent decades. Through the first 5 years of the 2010s, Columbus is on pace to add fewer than 3 square miles by 2020. Despite that fact, the city’s annual population growth since 2010 is exceeding the average annual growth of any decade during the mass annexation years. This strongly supports that the dynamic, and indeed, the story of Columbus’ growth is no longer about “fake” growth through the addition of existing land and population, but rather though the influx of new residents from outside of the city limits altogether. This is helping to gradually raise the city’s population density, which exceeded Cincinnati’s last year, as the chart below shows, along with a few other Columbus peers.

The Big Lie: The Midwest vs. The South

For 50 years now, the story has been how the South has been booming while the Midwest has languished in perpetual decline. Nearly every day, a new ranking or story comes about how great the South is in relation to its Northern neighbors, but the more I’ve looked at the numbers, the more I realize that the hype is built upon lies, half-truths and cherry-picking data.

The first data point we’re going to look at is Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, a measure of the total economic output, for the Midwest vs. the South.
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So on this measure, the South is doing pretty well vs. the Midwest… or so it seems at first. The advantage the South has, however, is Texas. Without the behemoth state, the South has had growth on pace with the Midwest, though the recession did knock the Midwest down a bit from a fairly wide gap. Even so, the Midwest is ahead of the South without Texas, making it pretty clear that Texas is a HUGE reason for the South’s growth. All by itself, it nearly double’s the region’s GDP. The Midwest has no such massively dominant state. So does this mean that the South has Texas to thank for all the attention it gets? More light will be shed on this as we go.

Now let’s look at GDP growth by decade for the regions.
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Again, on the surface the South does well. The 2000s were especially kind to the South, while the Midwest declined some, likely due to the double recessions that occurred. However, during the 2010s so far, the Midwest has been growing a bit faster than the South (without Texas), something which hasn’t happened since the 1970s. Once more, Texas shows up as being the main contributor by FAR vs. all other Southern states combined.

Taking GDP further, what does it look like per-capita for the regions?
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First of all, the data only goes back to 1987, and the 1997 jump is because the data collection sources changed. In any case, the Midwest region is the leader here. The South has been stagnant for the last decade or so, while the Midwest, aside from during the recession, has seen a steady rise. Since the recession, the pace of per-capita GDP growth has accelerated, and the gap between the region and the South has widened. The Midwest has reached the US average, while the South, with or without Texas, is well below it and not catching up. What does this mean? Well, that despite relatively healthy GDP total growth in the South, it has simply not been fast enough to keep pace with either the national average or the Midwest. The Midwest has a much stronger economic output per its population than the South does, by almost $10,000 per person.

What about income?
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I know this chart is a bit hard to see, but it runs from 1930-2013. What it shows is that the Midwest has long had the highest per-capita income of the two regions. In fact, the gap between the two has grown steadily wider over years, and has accelerated in the last 5. The Midwest, while just below the national average now, is ahead of the South as a whole, Texas alone and the South without Texas.

To illustrate the income change over the 1930-2013 period further, let’s look at % growth by decade.
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This chart actually shows that the South generally performed much better by rate of growth from the 1970s and earlier. Since then, the rate of growth between the regions has been much closer, and in the 1990s and 2010s, the Midwest grew faster. What this seems to indicate is that the long term growth rate in income is gradually turning more strongly towards the Midwest after a long period where the South had faster growth. The Midwest has also seen faster growth than the national average since the 1980s, not exactly an indication of some kind of sustained decline.

So far, the picture is not quite as one-sided as we’ve been told.

What’s more interesting, especially from a total GDP standpoint, is that the Midwest is smaller than the South as a whole. To be more equal, you’d have to include the Northeastern states. This throws the entire dynamic out the window. In fact, the North combined is still the largest regional economy of the 3 (North, South, West) by about 13 percentage points.

Columbus-Area Zip Codes and their Economies

First, we have a map for the Columbus area that includes the % of of employees in a particular zip code from 2000-2010.

From this map, the urban areas of Columbus seem to have lost the most % of their employees the last decade, along with the far suburban and rural areas. The biggest growth was in the areas along and just outside of 270. This is an interesting map as it implies that the nearest suburban areas are attracting the most jobs, but that these suburbs are are both pulling from the inner core, but also from much further out.

The second map is for average employee income by zip code.

What this map seems to show is that, while jobs may be moving to the I-270 suburbs, pay for those jobs is decidedly mixed across the city. Downtown, for example, averaged some of the highest incomes in the city. Other strong areas include parts of Westerville, New Albany and Dublin. Most of the High Street corridor was fairly strong as well. The lowest incomes were almost entirely in rural and far suburban areas.

Finally, the % change of average income from 2000-2010.

This map is also a mixed bag. Most of the area saw wage growth, but where it occurred the strongest was definitely all over the map. Some suburbs had good and bad, and so did the urban core areas.

So what’s all this mean? Well, certainly it means that the total # of jobs as far as growth shifted to the 270 suburbs the last decade, but at the same time, those jobs that remained in the core areas still grew in income. So it appears that the city is becoming richer about on par with the suburbs, at least the last 10 years. The question becomes, what happens the next decade? If urban trends continue the way they have the past few years (which these maps don’t really take into account), it is entirely possible that some of the job growth will move back inward towards the urban core.