LeBron James Homecoming Highlights Ohio’s Rust-Belt Renaissance
Ohio has boasted the sixth-healthiest U.S. state economy since the 18-month recession ended in June 2009, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States index. Unemployment was down and the state was adding manufacturing jobs even as the largest city in its most populous county snagged the high-profile convention and the return of its prodigal son basketball star.
“Ohio is making a big impact,” said Lisa Wade of Cleveland, 48, a cook at the Winking Lizard Tavern outside Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where James will play. “They want us.”
Opinion: Back to Ohio, LeBron Can't Lose
States and cities get few chances to change their images once they have been set in the popular imagination. Boosters in Cleveland and throughout the state are seizing on the opportunity with bold predictions about the millions of dollars that will be pumped into the Northeast Ohio economy and the opportunity to win another look from those who may have written them off.
James, 29, played seven seasons for the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers before, as he said in a 2010 national television special, taking his talents to Miami, where he led the team to a pair of championships. He said July 11 he was returning, three days after the Republican National Committee announced that it was choosing the city over Dallas to host its 2016 convention.
Ohio and Cleveland have suffered from the perception of being a region in decline after the fading of its heyday manufacturing steel and automobiles, said Ned Hill, an economist and dean of the College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University who has studied economic development.
“It changes the narrative that’s 30 years old, and it becomes one of state and city revival,” Hill said.
After losing hundreds of thousands of jobs during the recession, Ohio’s employment climbed from 4.9 million in January 2010 to 5.35 million in May, Labor Department data show. That’s the highest since October 2008.
The state’s unemployment rate of 5.5 percent in May was below the 6.3 percent figure for the U.S. as a whole, according to federal data. The difference is the widest since January 2013, when the Ohio number fell to 6.7 percent while the country’s hovered at 7.9 percent.
About 674,000 Ohioans are employed in manufacturing, the most since December 2008, according to the Labor Department.
“Ohio’s recovery has accelerated over the past several quarters,” said Brent Campbell, an economist who analyzes the state at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Manufacturing is a really important piece of the Ohio economy and auto sales have been doing well.”
Cleveland became the butt of jokes as “the mistake by the lake” when the polluted Cuyahoga River burned in 1969 and the city defaulted in 1978. Its population declined almost 60 percent from a peak of 914,808 in 1950 to about 390,000 today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
After bringing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland in 1995 and building stadiums for the National Football League’s Browns, the Indians of Major League Baseball and the Cavaliers, the city is amid what boosters call a “renaissance” with a bustling downtown and a medical corridor that has grown around the Cleveland Clinic, the county’s largest employer.
From 2009 through this year, more than $4.5 billion in development will have been invested downtown, according to the Regional Marketing Alliance of Northeast Ohio. That includes a new $465 million convention center and adjoining $272 million hotel under construction.
Even so, challenges remain. Cleveland tied for seventh in poverty with Lansing, Michigan, among 51 cities of 100,000 or more, with 36.1 percent of the population below the line, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The city ranked fifth in foreclosure rates nationally during the recession, according to its 2014 budget book. That left thousands of vacant and dilapidated properties to tear down in an attempt to stem the drop in property values.
The median sales price of a Cleveland home fell to $30,000 in 2013 from $82,000 in 2006, a 63.4 percent plunge, according to a study released in March by the nonprofit Thriving Communities Institute in Cleveland.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is emphasizing the new investments and 12,000 people living downtown, saying Cleveland isn’t the same city James left four years ago.
“Cleveland is probably the most unfairly maligned big city in America,” FitzGerald, a Democrat running for governor this year, told reporters in Columbus on July 9.
FitzGerald said yesterday that James’s return will spur ticket sales, spending at restaurants and revenue for arena bond payments that will boost the impact of the Cavs on the local economy to $500 million. The convention should bring $200 million, he has said.
Just the possibility of James’s return increased business for Caroline’s Cupcakes in Canton, about 55 miles (88 kilometers) from Cleveland and 18 miles from James’s hometown of Akron.
The store posted on its Facebook page July 5 that James joining the team was a “done deal,” six days before the actual announcement, crediting the knowledge to someone in the player’s camp. Sales of cupcakes with wine and gold crumbles, honoring the Cavaliers’ colors, have since spiked.
“What I’m really happy for is Northeast Ohio,” said Jonathan Gotschall, 33, the bakery’s owner. “As a small-business owner, I couldn’t be happier for myself and everyone else who’s going to get a little piece of it.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at email@example.com Mark Schoifet