Study finds slow recovery, blight from Great Recession

WARREN — The city has not experienced the type of rebound from the economic decline in 2008 that other larger cities and has undergone a steady decline in population, workforce and housing stock for nearly 20 years, according to a report from a nonprofit group in Columbus.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center’s report, in part, examined 15 small, established cities in Ohio and found Warren, like most of the other smaller cities in the study, has had more difficulty recovering from the Great Recession.

“Warren was particularly battered by the Great Recession because it was already in a weakened condition,” said Alison Goebel, the policy center’s executive director.

The study looked at small and mid-sized communities to determine how they compare with Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.

Warren experienced significant blight from 2000 to 2015, during which the housing vacancy rate rose from 1 percent to 9.6 percent, Goebel said. The report also found that over the same time period, the labor force dropped from 55.8 percent to 49.8 percent and the city’s population fell 13 percent, from 46,832 to 40,245.

Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, which manages Trumbull County’s land bank, has been working to reduce the number of blighted homes in Warren, said TNP Executive Director Matt Martin.

“There were 1,500 abandoned homes on a list we compiled in 2015,” Martin said. “We have since been able to reduce that number by 300 through demolitions and another 100 through the rehabilitation of some homes.”

The majority of the homes were demolished using money received from state and federal agencies.

Martin said he expects the number of vacant homes in the city to drop below 1,000 by the end of the year.

During the report period, several companies in Warren significantly downsized or closed, including WCI, RG Steel, Peerless Electric Co. and GE’s Ohio Lamp Plant.

Despite the job loss, the city’s unemployment rate is the lowest among the 15 smaller cities examined in the report. The rate also hasn’t gone up much during most of the period in the report — unemployment was 5.1 percent in 2015 compared with 5 percent in 2000.

That’s due, in part, because the number of working-age adults also declined in 2000, the report states.

Warren Community Development Director Michael Keys said officials have been working with the Regional Chamber and others to attract new businesses into the city and surrounding communities to replace some of the companies that left the area. He cited Laird Technologies, Neo Arc and Patriot Water as examples of the work that has been done.

“These are all companies that moved into the area,” Keys said. “We cannot only look at companies that are in the city, but those that are in the surrounding communities. They are providing jobs for people in the city.”

Keys said it’s unlikely the area will again see large corporations with thousands of jobs locate here. Instead, smaller, specialty companies are more likely.

“We are trying to diversify to attract technical companies, like Laird, and to develop companies by working with TBEIC ( Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center),” he said. “We must work to retain the jobs we have, such as the companies in the Golden Triangle, which combined have 3,000 to 4,000 jobs.”

“There is no one approach to solving the problems facing cities. We are telling lawmakers in Columbus and local community leaders that it is important to invest in people and in the quality of the community,” Goebel said.