In May 2012 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 12 out of every 1000 people in the Greater Toledo Area were working in Computer and Mathematical Occupations. With a total working population of 292,000 that means the Greater Toledo Area had 1.2% of its population working in occupations considered essential for future global economic competitiveness.
How does this compare to other cities?
Look toward Toledo’s neighbor to the south: Columbus, and the same report showed that 41 out of every 1000 jobs in Columbus are held by those in Computer and Mathematical Occupations.
Now, Columbus’ working population is three times that of Toledo’s (a little over 900,000), so you would expect there to be at least three times as many Computer and Mathematical Occupations. However, as the per capita numbers show Columbus actually has a 10-to-1 advantage over Toledo. In other words, there are 3500 Computer and Mathematical Occupations in Toledo while Columbus has over 38,000!
Let’s put this in perspective by first assuming that Toledo has the right ratio of Computer and Mathematical Occupations to working population. If that were the case then a city the size of Columbus should have only 10,500 people employed in Computer and Mathematical Occupations. Yet, they have 38,240 people working in this sector of the economy. Are they employing more than they need?
Now, let’s reverse this and say that Columbus has it right. If that is the case then Toledo should have around 12,750 people working in Computer and Mathematical Occupations. That is a difference of 9,250!
What does this mean for Toledo?
It means there might be nearly ten thousand jobs that do not exist in Toledo but that should exist, especially if Toledo wants to compete on a level playing field with other cities, states, and the rest of the world.
It also means nearly ten thousand jobs that pay a median wage of $28.00 an hour are nowhere to be found in Toledo.
Comparisons like this are inherently difficult, after all Columbus is not Toledo, and when you try to compare Toledo to other cities there is an interesting puzzle that forms.
Many cities of comparable residential size have larger working populations. For example, Newark, New Jersey, has a residential population comparable to Toledo but the number of people working in the city is three times larger than the number of residents in the city. Much of this discrepancy can be attributed to commuting; however, when you look at how the BLS does its numbers it really doesn’t matter, because the Toledo, Ohio, designation encompasses Lucas, Wood, Fulton, and Ottawa County.
What this shows is that commuting does not address the disparities seen in this particular occupational category when it comes to Toledo.
In fact, if anything, this makes the disparities in Toledo even more problematic, because it suggests that Toledo itself may be the reason why the Greater Toledo Area is generally falling behind other metropolitan regions like Newark, Boston, Portland, and even Cleveland.
Cleveland has a working population equal to Columbus yet has 27,530 people employed in Computer and Mathematical Occupations. If you are keeping track that means the Cleveland area has nearly 8 times the number of Toledo people employed in Computer and Mathematical Occupations, even though Cleveland has only three times the working population of Toledo.
The crucial question is: can Toledo do anything about it?
It would take months to study all the problems plaguing Toledo; however, one of the things city leaders could do to encourage an increase in highly skilled technical work would be to improve the communications systems of Toledo. Toledo’s communication system is as dilapidated as its other infrastructure, so much so that even in Corporate Toledo you cannot always get a decent internet connection for your home or business.
Now it would be naïve to believe that rebuilding Toledo’s digital infrastructure will create some kind of “Field of Dreams” situation in which Toledo builds it and they come. It will take more than that to create an environment appealing to the entrepreneurial spirit and the technically savvy.
Beyond creating a digital infrastructure that attracts startups, and keeps Toledo’s best and brightest from leaving Toledo, political and business leaders must focus on building better partnerships between local government and business, emphasizing the creation of a strategic vision for the city and the Greater Toledo Area.
One of the biggest impediments to establishing this vision for Toledo might be the hope that Toledo, and other rust belt cities, will someday be restored to their industrial glory, that low-skilled and high-wage jobs will somehow return to the United States. This seems like a big gamble, one that might lead to the same fate as Detroit in a decade or two.
Unfortunately, the very people that could make Toledo a thriving center of technical development, commerce, and creativity, are leaving, and there is no short-term solution Toledo can use to remedy this situation.
The Old Testament proverbist once wrote: “Where there is no vision, the people perish….” (Proverbs 29:18) Can Toledo create that vision before it is too late?