Opportunities, challenges arise as Cincinnati, Dayton regions grow toward one another

Butler, Warren counties at forefront of trend
Posted at 7:00 AM, Oct 17, 2017

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati-Dayton is becoming more than just a road connecting two cities. The gap between Greater Cincinnati and Dayton is closing.

With continued population growth, speculation that the two metropolitan areas would expand to one another’s borders is becoming a reality.

“In my opinion, it has really basically already happened,” said Butler County Development Director David Fehr. “We actually kind of tout that.”

Local officials have speculated about the meeting of the two regions since at least 2007.

“Ever since I’ve been here, that’s been a discussion,” said Martin Russell, director of economic development for Warren County.

Situated between Cincinnati and Dayton on Interstate 75, Butler County and portions of Warren County are home to the municipalities filling the gap.

“Being in Butler County puts us right in the middle,” said T.C. Rogers, president of the Butler County Board of Commissioners and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.

Prior to the nationwide economic recession of 2008, populations were increasing rapidly in Butler and Warren counties. That growth slowed considerably following the recession but has since resumed.

With populations of 61,000 in West Chester and 40,000 in Liberty Township, the area has seen a significant boom.

Liberty Township officials expect to see their population climb to 80,000 in the coming years.

Population growth in the northern portion of Greater Cincinnati is largely thanks to the availability of land in Butler and Warren counties. While there’s been some infill of vacant properties closer to the city’s urban core, many families are being drawn north by the lure of building their own homes.

“If you’re looking at that kind of product, you’re pretty much looking at Butler County and Warren County,” Fehr said.

West Chester and Liberty townships recently have seen substantial development in the vicinity of Liberty Way, but other communities in Butler County are growing too. Rogers points to an Amazon fulfillment center coming to Monroe and the recent expansion at Middletown’s Atrium Medical Center as indicators of growth farther north.

“We’ve positioned ourself and made our resources and infrastructure ready to accept future growth,” he said.

Plans to link Butler County Regional Transit Authority with Dayton’s public transit system are one step toward anticipated growth that also lends itself to connecting Cincinnati and Dayton. BCRTA already is linked with Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority.

Despite the preparation for future growth, the move toward Cincinnati-Dayton regionalism isn’t necessarily a goal for local officials.

“Our goal in economic development is we’re trying to provide job creation opportunities for people that live inside Warren County,” Russell said. “I think what’s happening is a byproduct of that.”

Like Fehr and Rogers, he sees the gaps closing between Greater Cincinnati and Dayton. However, it may be a bit longer before the regions meet in a way that can be qualified through a census.

“I think we may not be technically there yet,” Russell said. “We’re pretty close.”

The timeline for when the two regions might get to that point and what it could look like are uncertain.

“Whether it meets a Dallas-Fort Worth standard … I’m not sure about that,” Russell said.

There are stumbling blocks to watch out for, too, in terms of continued growth and the interconnectedness that may result.

Planning for population increases means moderating growth in school districts and looking at infrastructure.

“Keeping up road improvements with population growth -- not so much I-75, but those secondary roads -- having traffic backups at times does feel like you’re trying to play catch-up,” Fehr said.

Continued growth in the northern Cincinnati region also will require collaboration between business communities and future government, Rogers said.

The need for partnership carries over into the potential move toward regionalism. Philosophical differences between governing bodies in the different regions could pose challenges.

“If we’re going to be in this new model of regionalism … that regionalism has to be a two-way street,” Russell said.