Central Ohio's population growth to hasten as economic development booms in the region
Central Ohio is expected to keep growing at an even-faster pace as big projects like Intel’s semiconductor plants in Licking County come online.
More housing and infrastructure are needed to support the influx of people.
Over one million people live in Central Ohio. The Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission and U.S census data found Columbus was the only Midwest city to grow by more than 100,000 residents in the last decade and it estimates that the region's population will triple by 2050.
“We still believe that is true. However, with Intel and all the other big economic development, we think that there might be accelerated growth in the short term,” said Kerstin Carr, chief regional strategy officer and director of planning at MORPC.
Intel promises to bring 3,000 long-term jobs to the region with two semiconductor plants by 2025. The project broke ground this summer in Licking County.
The site is busy with activity from workers, trucks and bulldozers. Intel intends to build eight plants in total. The factories are expected to attract suppliers and other businesses to the region.
Economist Bill LaFayette said it’s safe to expect more jobs from Intel before and after construction.
“The employment at Intel in 10 years, if they completely follow through with their plans could be around 12,000," LaFeyette said.
Construction of the first two fabs will take an estimated 7,000 workers. LaFeyette said those jobs should stay in the region in various capacities.
“Perhaps not at that level but close to it for the next decade,” he said. “And those workers are going to wait for indirect jobs, too. So, each construction job will lead to another job in the region.”
So is the region ready for all those new people?
Based on census data, MORPC sair the average Intel worker will likely live within 30 minutes of the plant. It put together a drivetime map to gauge the average commute to the site in various parts of the region.
LaFeyette and Carr both said that Columbus needs more housing to support that demand.
A recent study by the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio found the Columbus area needs to double housing in the next decade to keep up.
Carr said one step could be communities addressing zoning codes that might limit what kind of homes can be built in those areas.
“And work with their communities to identify ways where they can create infill and development opportunities that really uplift their community as a whole that provides more housing for people at all income levels,” she said.
Intel isn’t the only billion-dollar investment for the region. Honda recently announced that it will build a multi-billion-dollar car battery plant in Fayette County which will create 2,200 jobs.
And all those drivers commuting to Intel also need safe roads. The state is committing over $600 million to improve state Route 161 to I-270 to provide better access to Intel’s mega site.
The rest of the funding will go to sewage and water upgrades to support operations at Intel and the surrounding businesses.
MORPC director of transportation studies Nick Gill said local roads will need expensive upgrades to handle the extra traffic.
“Not just 161 itself, which will probably need widened at some point in the future on over to the Granville and Newark area but their local roads are what their most concerned with," Gill said. "As development pops up in the more rural areas of Licking County, they’ll be using the local road systems and not necessarily the state road system.”
Carr said it would also help to build more housing near the plants.
“If workers are forced to travel farther for their jobs than they would prefer due to housing costs or scarcity, not only will those workers be worse off, but this will result in unnecessary congestion and air pollution, traffic deaths and other adverse consequences as well,” she said.
MOPRC is updating its goals in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan by 2024. It will reflect Intel’s announcement and other multi-billion-dollar projects like the new Honda electric car battery plant.
Comments on the proposed goals are being accepted through November 4, 2022 and can be submitted to MORPC by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing to MORPC, 111 Liberty Street, Suite 100, Columbus, OH, 43215, Attn: MTP.