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Will LeVesconte assembled robotic connectors this week at the South High Street facility of local electronics distribution company Electroshield. LeVesconte, who grew up in the village and now lives in Fairborn, is one of the nearly 1,200 people who commute to Yellow Springs for their job. Commuters make up 80 percent of the local workforce. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Will LeVesconte assembled robotic connectors this week at the South High Street facility of local electronics distribution company Electroshield. LeVesconte, who grew up in the village and now lives in Fairborn, is one of the nearly 1,200 people who commute to Yellow Springs for their job. Commuters make up 80 percent of the local workforce. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Fewer local jobs, more commuting

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EYE ON OUR ECONOMY This is the third in a series of articles examining the economic landscape of Yellow Springs.

Click to view all the articles in this series.


Heidi Hoover could be considered one of the lucky few. Her dream of living and working in Yellow Springs came true seven years ago when, after returning to her hometown to start a family, she was hired as a second-grade teacher at Mills Lawn Elementary School after substitute teaching there.

“Luckily something happened to open up here even though [the district] didn’t think it would,” Hoover said this week. “In my head teaching in Yellow Springs was always my ideal.”

Hoover, 40, now walks a few blocks to work, which means she doesn’t have to clear her car of snow in the winter and with less time commuting can spend more time with her 5-year-old daughter, Stella, and husband, Jonathan, who teaches at Clark State in Springfield. Hoover also loves seeing her students in town.

“I used to love to run into my teachers at Weaver’s [grocery store] and now they see me downtown — it’s really wonderful, that connection,” Hoover said. But, by her account, most Mills Lawn teachers don’t live in the village, and statistics show that only one in five local workers live in town.

Antioch College literature professor Geneva Gano also considers herself fortunate to both live and work in the village, which to her means a more “laid-back lifestyle of walking downtown and walking to work.” Hired in 2011 as the fifth tenure-track professor at the college, Gano and her husband, Joshua Paddison, made sacrifices to live here, such as buying a house that needed work when they would have preferred renting. But they wanted their two young children to attend Yellow Springs schools.

More than half of Antioch’s 28 faculty members live in town, according to the college, which Gano said she sees as fewer than there might be if more faculty positions were tenure-track rather than contingent, and the college’s future was more certain.

Volker Bahn is another college professor who lives in the village, but he is among the 80 percent of working residents who commute. Bahn is also part of the 8 percent of villagers with a doctorate — eight times the state average. Bahn moved to Yellow Springs with his wife, Deanna Newsom, and two small children in 2008 when he was hired as a biology professor at Wright State University. A fellow Yellow Springer who works at Wright State — one of at least a few dozen villagers with jobs at that university — sold him on the village soon after he got the position.

“It was walkable and the culture was liberal and well educated — it sounded fabulous,” Bahn said. Now a tenured professor, Bahn doesn’t mind the 12-mile commute, which he tries to bicycle as often as possible. Last year he biked 150 days.

“Sure, it would be nice to work just around the corner, but I enjoy the bicycle ride — it’s a good workout,” he said. Still, the Village of Yellow Springs doesn’t collect any income taxes from Bahn.

Today less than 20 percent of those who live in Yellow Springs also have their primary job here, a number that has been falling over the last decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. With local jobs on the decline, to make ends meet residents are increasingly looking outside of town for employment — many traveling more than 50 miles for work — or working from home in greater numbers. That means less money is flowing to Village coffers, as employees are first taxed where they work.

Between 2002 and 2011 the village shed around 400 jobs, a 20 percent decline. Jobs in manufacturing and lower-paying jobs were lost at an even faster clip. Education is not only the principal occupation of local residents, but the main industry of the village economy, accounting for about one third of all local jobs — even though gains in that industry have only recently begun to make up for job losses incurred over the last decade.

Overall, annual payroll from local businesses has been stagnant for almost two decades, putting more pressure on Village government, which relies heavily on an income tax on local workers to pay for services. And this is not just part of a regional trend. Job losses here have been worse than regional and state averages and have taken place amidst job growth in Greene County and the U.S. from 2002 to 2011.

But the local economic picture has a silver lining. While the Yellow Springs economy has fared poorly in recent years, the financial situation for most households has improved, with local median household income outpacing state and federal growth to reach $58,750 in 2012. Over the last decade, the number of local firms held steady, with many smaller businesses now dominating the economic landscape and new businesses sprouting up each year. The unemployment rate in the village remained steady at around eight percent over the last 10 years and is currently near the state average of 7.5 percent. And local population has appeared to stabilize around 3,500 in the last few years after declining 25 percent since 1970.

To measure the health of the Yellow Springs economy, it’s critical to look at both what local jobs exist and where villagers work. Are there enough local jobs to fund existing Village services and to continue to attract and retain residents? Does Yellow Springs need more jobs, and, if so, what kinds of jobs? How are villagers making ends meet if there are fewer jobs here? Is Yellow Springs a vital live-work community, or is it becoming a so-called bedroom community as the vast majority of residents commute for work? And how related is the available supply of affordable housing to growing new jobs here? This article and an accompanying story in next week’s News will address these questions as part of a continuing series on the economy.

Behind the bedroom community
Based upon Census data, here are commuting patterns on a typical workday: 1,191 people commute into Yellow Springs to go to work, while 1,351 residents leave town to work elsewhere, and 304 people walk, bike or drive to their jobs within the village. That was the case in 2011, when about 18 percent of working residents had a job in town, a figure higher than comparable small towns like Bellbrook, Cedarville, Waynesville and Enon, on par with places like Xenia, Tipp City and Beavercreek and below the rate in Greenville, Springfield and Dayton. About 28 percent of villagers had a local job in 2002, or 450 people.

Why don’t more local employees live here? According to Village Council member and Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce Director Karen Wintrow, high local housing prices are one deterrent. Historically, local housing prices tracked with the regional average until 1990, when they diverged. Last year, local housing sales were double the Dayton area median sales at $201,750 according to the Dayton Area Board of Realtors.

For Will LeVesconte, 34, an assembler at electronics distribution company Electroshield, high housing prices were one factor that led him to move to Fairborn after growing up in the village, he said. LeVesconte has worked at the firm since he was 16 years old. Currently, about half of Electrosheild’s 17 employees live in the village.

At the same time, local workers, in order to afford their high-priced homes, are leaving the village for work because they can’t find good jobs in the village, Wintrow added, in part because local industries are so specialized.

“Two things are going on — people that are coming here to work can’t find a place to buy, even though there would be a natural affinity for them to live here, such as those who work at the college,” Wintrow said. For those who live in town, “because our jobs are somewhat specialized — the major opportunities are the college, teaching at the [K-12] schools and YSI (Xylem) — there are only scatterings of other things,” they are forced to commute, she explained.

Figures show that villagers are traveling further distances to find work. More than one quarter of local commuters travel more than 50 miles from Yellow Springs to their job, which is double the state average, suggesting that many are now employed in places like Cincinnati and Columbus. Only eight percent of local workers made such a long-distance trek in 2002. Two thirds of residents who work drive less than 24 miles to work, down from 80 percent in 2002. After Yellow Springs, the top five cities residents work in are Dayton (162 people), Fairborn (138), Springfield (106), Xenia (75) and Columbus (64).

Local resident Frank Doden, for instance, teaches English at the Columbus School for Girls, which is about a 60-mile commute in each direction. In 1998, Doden was in a position called a “trailing spouse,” as he moved to the village with his wife, Lori Askeland, when she got a faculty position at Wittenberg University.

“Because of family circumstances, I also needed a full-time job with benefits, so I took a job teaching in Columbus, which was comparable to the job I had had in Kansas,” Doden explained. But commuting doesn’t bother him, he said. He likes the alone time listening to NPR, and he tries to save on gas money and to be environmentally conscious by driving a car with good gas mileage and longevity. His 2001 Volkswagon deisel-powered Beetle racked up 356,000 miles by 2013.

If Doden, Bahn and others don’t mind the commute, then what is the problem with the current trend of villagers seeking employment out of town? First, the Village doesn’t benefit as much from the income of commuters, who pay income taxes where they work first. In addition, some locals have said they aspire to also work here in order to better balance work and home life. And local businesses benefit by being more connected to the community.

Though specific data is not available, according to the memory of several villagers and News archives, historically many more people both lived and worked in town, in part because there were more local jobs available.

A 1982 News series on the local economy documented that, for example, half of Antioch Publishing Company’s 80 employees lived in town. When that firm closed up shop in 2012, none of the 38 mostly production employees lived in Yellow Springs. One quarter of YSI’s 370 employees in 1982 lived in town — today the figure for the company, now Xylem, is eight percent of 197 employees. Though Vernay said that “less than 25 percent” of its 500 employees lived in town in early 1982, that number is significant compared with its 20 total employees in 2011 (it is unknown how many live in town). Today about six percent of Friends Care Center’s 75 employees live in town and 69 of the 139 employees of Antioch College (including the Glen, WYSO, Antioch Review) live in the village.

Former Antioch Publishing (later Creative Memories) CEO Lee Morgan witnessed the trend over the decades of fewer and fewer employees deciding to live in the village. Whereas it seemed that mostly “blue collar” workers would commute to town (from places like Springfield, from where Morgan said he could easily hitchhike in the early morning hours in the 1960s), and “white collar” employees lived in town, he saw that change when managers at his company also started to live out of town.

“The managers we hired wanted to live in Beavercreek and places that had no income tax so they could save money,” Morgan explained. “We would import managers and try to get them to live in Yellow Springs but they wanted more bang for their housing buck. Over time it got worse and worse.”

Morgan said that the same was increasingly true for YSI and Vernay. According to Susan Miller, who worked at YSI for 20 years, when CEO Malte von Matthiessen left the company in 2002, none of those remaining in top management positions lived in town. The trend was mirrored at other local companies, and can generally result in businesses “losing touch with the community,” she said. As an example, there were three major company foundations that supported local non-profits here — the YSI Foundation, Vernay Foundation and Antioch Company Foundation — and now they are all defunct.

Miller attributed the trend of local employees living elsewhere to their lack of understanding about the benefits of paying a premium to live in Yellow Springs.
“They didn’t know the culture we love,” Miller said. “They thought, ‘I can get a lot bigger house and don’t have to fix it up.’ But once you live here a while, then you know why we pay a little more.”

According to Morgan, Antioch College was the only institution that tried to tackle the problem head on, by purchasing homes in the village for faculty housing. But those properties were later sold for cash.

“I believe it was a significant factor in the decline of the college — the college faculty should be strongly encouraged to live in Yellow Springs because it improves the quality of community life and the whole essence of liberal arts is a relationship between students and teachers,” Morgan said.

Jobs impact Village finances
The decline of local jobs means that fewer villagers can live and work in town and fewer people may be attracted to live here. But it also has dramatic implications for Village government, which is heavily dependent upon income taxes, and, to a lesser extent, for Yellow Springs Schools. Both entities, citing loss of income tax receipts, have asked for property tax levies in recent years to continue to deliver high-quality services (Village) and education (school district), further increasing the general cost of living in Yellow Springs.

In Ohio, municipalities can collect an income tax from local workers and residents to pay for government services (Some states, like Florida and Texas, don’t allow municipalities to impose income taxes at all). Yellow Springs first enacted an income tax of 1 percent in 1969 and increased it to 1.5 percent by a ballot initiative in 1985 that passed by 12 votes, according to a News article. Workers first pay the tax in the community in which they work and only pay income taxes to their home community if the home community’s rate is higher than where they work. In that case, the worker pays the difference. But since Yellow Springs’ income tax rate is lower than, or on par with, most municipalities in the area, it doesn’t take in much from those who don’t work here.
Generally speaking, the Village government relies on the income taxes collected from local employees to keep it running. Last year these taxes, along with a tax on business profits, totaled $1.34 million, about half of general fund revenue and its single biggest revenue source.

In 2002, the Yellow Springs School District passed a 1 percent income tax levy that collects on the taxable income of all those who live in the school district regardless of where they work (and not on employees that don’t live here). Income tax receipts from this levy, which generates between $200,000 and $300,000 for the school, declined by 14 percent over a decade, whereas school leaders had initially projected steady growth, according to a News article. That decline was one reason the school justified asking voters to approve a new 7.4-mill property tax levy in 2012, which voters did overwhelmingly.

Meanwhile, the 8.4-mill property tax levy for the Village approved by voters in 2006 by one vote and again in 2011 was first proposed to shore up Village finances during the local economic downturn. That levy has reduced the impact of job loss on the Village, according to Wintrow, while it has simultaneously reduced the affordability of living here.

“Without the money and additional funding that the property tax levy brings, we’d be in big trouble,” Wintrow said of Village finances. “We’re lucky a lot of villagers feel a socially-conscious responsibility to the Village.”

And as the community ages faster than state and national averages (the village’s median age was 12 years older than in Ohio in 2012), fewer villagers working in town also can mean less income tax coming in.

Just because there are fewer jobs doesn’t necessarily mean less income tax. In fact, local payroll has not declined as precipitously as the number of jobs, though it has stagnated. Data aren’t specifically available for the village, but in the 45387 zip code, annual payroll increased a paltry 1.1 percent between 1998 and 2011, to $63.4 million. That pales in comparison to growth in Greene County (66 percent), Ohio (30 percent), and the U.S. (56 percent) over the same time period. (In that 13-year period the number of employees in 45387 dropped 40 percent from 2,854 to 1,640.) Meanwhile, expenses at the Village have grown from $7.1 million in 2005 to a $9.8 million in 2013 at an increase of about 5 percent per year.

Villagers respond
In the face of job declines, what are villagers doing to make ends meet? Data show that in addition to commuting more and further, villagers are also setting up shop in home-based businesses, and many are living more frugally. In addition, villagers are now discussing what can be done to turn the tide of local job loss. In what industries should local leaders focus their efforts? What are the best opportunities for growth in Yellow Springs considering the skills and education level of our residents? Next week’s article will continue to explore these topics.

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