Meet the Author

Kathryn Holston |

Research Intern

Kathryn Holston is an intern in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. She joined the Bank in June 2013 and her primary interests include macroeconomics, consumer finance, and international economics.

Meet the Author

Kyle Fee |

Economic Analyst

Kyle Fee

Kyle Fee is an economic analyst in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. His research interests include economic development, regional economics and economic geography.

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Economic Trends

The Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area

Kathryn Holston and Kyle Fee

Located in the geographic center of Ohio, the Columbus Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is home to nearly 2 million people, dispersed across ten counties (Delaware, Fairfield, Franklin, Hocking, Licking, Madison, Morrow, Perry, Pickaway, and Union). The MSA has a significantly higher concentration of employment than the nation in two high-skilled, high-wage service industries: financial activities and professional and business services. This was true in 2007 and remained the case throughout the recession. In 2012, the share of workers in each of these industries surpassed the nation’s share by 25 to 30 percent.

Columbus’s employment is largely concentrated in different industries than the state as a whole. Looking at location quotients for Ohio and Columbus (which show how employment is concentrated in various industries relative to the nation), we can see that the proportion of the state’s workforce that is employed in manufacturing is higher than the national average, unlike the Columbus MSA. In contrast, the state has a smaller share of workers than the nation in financial activities and professional and business services, the two sectors in which Columbus’s employment is particularly concentrated.

Perhaps this difference in labor allocation accounts for the dissimilarity between the MSA’s and the state’s employment levels throughout the recession: Columbus suffered less job loss than the nation and significantly less than the state. Since the last business cycle peak in December 2007, employment within the MSA has grown by almost 1 percent. In comparison, Ohio’s employment fell by 3.8 percent and the nation’s declined by 1.7 percent over the same period.

Since the last business cycle peak, nonmanufacturing employment within the MSA has increased by roughly 3 percent, compared to the nation’s decline of 0.4 percent. In contrast, manufacturing job losses have been almost equivalent in Columbus and the nation.

Recent job growth within the MSA has been largely driven by service industries. The leisure, hospitality, education, and health services sectors have consistently contributed to positive employment gains throughout the past six years. Although the professional and business services sector suffered a significant decline in employment in 2009, it has resurfaced as one of Columbus’s leading sectors in terms of job growth in both 2011 and 2012.

During 2012, jobs in Columbus grew by about 1.5 percent, compared to the nation’s gain of 1.7 percent. Predictably, the MSA performed more strongly than the nation in a number of higher-skilled service industries over this period, including financial activities, education and health services, and leisure and hospitality. Columbus experienced negative employment growth in only one sector and posted growth of more than 1 percent in many others.

From 2005 to 2009, Columbus’s unemployment rate remained very close to the nation’s. While unemployment did increase sharply in the MSA during the recession, it has consistently been lower than the nation since early 2009. In December, the MSA’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.7, compared to 7.8 percent in the nation.

Columbus is the only large Fourth District MSA whose population has grown at a faster rate than the nation’s in the past three decades. Since 1980, Columbus’s population has increased by 53 percent, compared to the nation’s gain of 39 percent. In that same period, Cincinnati’s population grew at slightly more than half of the national rate, while Cleveland’s declined by 5 percent and Pittsburgh’s fell by 10 percent.

Although the Columbus MSA is home to a smaller percentage of minorities than the US, it has a higher percentage than the state. The MSA’s population is relatively better educated: Almost a third of Columbus’s residents aged 25 and older have earned a bachelor’s degree, higher than in either Ohio or the nation. The MSA’s population is also younger, on average, than either the state’s or the nation’s, with a median age of only 35.4.

Selected Demographics

Total population (millions)
1.9 11.5 311.6
Percent by race
77.7 82.9 74.1
14.6 12.1 12.6
7.7 5.0 13.3
Percent by age
27.4 26.2 26.6
22.2 19.0 20.4
39.7 40.5 39.6
65 and older
10.8 14.2 13.2
Percent with bachelor’s degree or higher
32.9 24.7 28.5
Median age
35.4 39.1 37.3

Source: US Census Bureau, 2011 American Community Survey.

In 2011, the MSA’s per capita income was $40,188, exceeding the state’s ($37,836) but falling below the nation’s ($41,560). While Columbus’s per capita income has been below the national level in recent years, it has historically been higher. It has also surpassed Ohio’s in every year since 1980.