Related story: “No misery in Toledo’s quality of life” by Michael Ashford
Related story: “Company loves misery” by Michael S. Miller
Toledo is miserable.
Well, at least according to Forbes magazine. Forbes ranked Toledo as the No. 12 of 20 U.S. cities on its “America’s Most Miserable Cities” list released Feb. 2.
This is the fourth year the magazine has rated miserable cities in the U.S. Last year, Toledo ranked No. 15 on the money magazine’s list. The first two years the list was limited to 10 cities and Toledo wasn’t ranked.
Also included in this year’s list are other Midwest cities: Chicago at No. 7; Cleveland at No. 10; Flint, Mich., at No. 11; Youngstown at No. 14; and Detroit at No. 15. The list also includes eight cities in California, four from Florida and one from the East Coast.
Kurt Badenhausen, Forbes senior editor and author of the list, said he doesn’t believe there is any bias for or against one part of the country in the rankings. He said previous “most miserable” lists have included New York City, Philadelphia and Buffalo, N.Y. This year the magazine decided to look at the housing market for the first time, which negatively affected California and Florida, he said.
“All of the cities on this have lots of positive things for their residents to enjoy, but this list is focused on the hardships that they must endure,” Badenhausen told Toledo Free Press via e-mail.
Forbes has many different lists that highlight the positives and negatives cities have to offer and the idea is to spark conversation about the issues, he said.
To rank the most miserable cities, Forbes looked at the 200 largest metropolitan areas in the United States — with a minimum population of 249,000 to be eligible.
It ranked the cities based on 10 factors, including unemployment during the past three years, tax rates, commute times, violent crimes, weather and how a city’s professional sports teams fared, according to a Forbes article on methodology. Housing prices and foreclosure rates as well as convictions of public officials in each region were also considered.
While only the top few cities had much mention in the article, the magazine said this about Toledo in its slideshow: “A recent economic analysis of the Toledo metro forecast that employment would not return to pre-recession levels until after 2025. Unemployment has averaged 10.6% during the past three years.”
Some in Toledo believe Forbes’ ranking to be inaccurate, some believe the ranking shouldn’t be given any attention at all and others feel Toledo has earned its designation.
On Toledo Free Press’ Facebook page and website, several individuals commented about the state of the city’s psyche. Comments shared here are unedited.
One reader commenting under the name Concerned said, “Let’s face it! Forbes got it right. The only way this city is going to succeed it for belt tighting. Making sure our tax money goes where it should and we need to stop letting outside media sources run this city into the ground. Lot’s of mistakes made over the last 20 plus years. Now we must pay for it and find a way to make things right.”
Others who agree with the ranking said it was Toledo’s own fault for continually voting for the same people again and again.
However, in general many of the comments received were positive about Toledo.
“I moved here from Pasadena, CA. In Toledo we have no earthquakes, low crime, low smog, a great lake.4 seasons, great schools, parks, a great zoo & museum. Don’t listen too closely to others. Just poke your head out the window and enjoy the positive attributes of our city!” wrote Bill Steele.
“I have no complaints. Lack of major sports teams? We’re within 4 hours of major cities, hell I went to the Wings game last night,” wrote Jeremy Pellek.
“There’s plenty to do, a small but vibrant arts and music community, real estate is cheap, gridlock is almost nonexistent, crime is relatively low and people are mostly pleasant. Everyone but our PR department seems remarkably devoid of misery,” wrote Keith Bergman.
Rachel Richardson, a local activist and musician who considers herself “a product of Toledo,” said she’s not upset about the ranking, but upset that it’s getting press. Richardson said she believes Toledo is a “magical” place and doesn’t tolerate any rhetoric to the contrary.
Richardson, a contributor to Toledo Free Press Star, said the city has many artists and activists including traditional artists, musicians, ballet and theater troupes.
“We shouldn’t have to answer to the people who say negative things about Toledo,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to stop doing what we’re doing to defend what a wonderful place we live in.”
Rich Nachazel, president of Destination Toledo, said Forbes’ assessment was mostly related to economics and real estate, which will improve as the economy does. Nachazel said residents are fortunate to live in this market.
“If Toledo is miserable, then I love miserable. The Toledo area is a great area to be involved in,” he said. “I can’t think of too many places that have the big city amenities — great sports, the arts, universities — within an eight-to-10-minute commute.”
There is no question people in Toledo are hurting, but there is also no question people in Toledo are willing to help, said Bill Kitson, United Way of Greater Toledo president and CEO.
“When a community surpasses a United Way campaign goal as this community did this year — and so close on the heels of an economic downturn; when more than 3,500 people raise their hand to volunteer in just one week following devastating tornadoes; when we see people start exploring what it really means to advocate for something they’re passionate about … that’s a community I am proud to be a part of,” Kitson said.
Area politicians said the ranking is an incorrect portrayal of Toledo.
“We ought to extend an invitation to the editors of Forbes to come to Toledo; I think they’d change their mind in a hurry,” said Councilman Mike Craig.
Craig said Toledo may be suffering economically, but so are a lot of other cities in the Rust Belt and those cities don’t have anything over Toledo.
“There’s a lot of value to living in Toledo and I think [Forbes] is misinformed,” he said.
Councilman Joe McNamara thinks the methodology Forbes uses to rank cities is flawed.
“We shouldn’t be rated or compared to other cities on factors we can’t control; like weather and the presence of a pro sports team,” he said.
McNamara said the methodology also doesn’t factor in the positive things happening in Toledo, like the number of cultural entities in the city and its push to be a hub of alternative energies.
Councilman D. Michael Collins said he’s disappointed Forbes did not appropriately define Toledo.
“I’m not questioning their integrity, but I do think Toledo, and Northwest Ohio, has been and remains a city to live in that has far more advantages than disadvantages,” he said.
Collins said Toledo has a brilliant future and if public education and confidence in the municipality is fixed, the sky is the limit for Toledo.
“I believe both of these are doable,” he said. “If we have a sustained effort to correct both of these, not only our reputation of Toledo but the quality of life will be looked upon by the nation as a very desirable place to live.”
Some in the community believe Forbes’ ranking is a result of the failure to get Toledo’s story to other parts of the country.
Wendy Gramza, executive vice president of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she disagrees with the ranking and if Forbes had the current data on the city, Toledo wouldn’t make the list. Gramza said the ranking proves why the “Toledo Region Story,” a branding initiative for the region started last year, is so important.
“[Forbes] has a thought in their heads about the Midwest and probably did much of their research through an Internet search engine,” she said. “We haven’t presented our story in those venues and they’re looking at old data and old story. It’s our responsibility to let them know the good things in the region.”
The City of Toledo agrees with Gramza that if Forbes had more current information it wouldn’t think the city was miserable.
“We have a number of tremendous assets that would prove to the contrary. If they looked at current data they would see our efforts to make a more vibrant regional community and see we’re far from miserable,” said Jen Sorgenfrei, public information officer for Toledo. “We think the efforts of the regional branding initiative, its partners such as the Toledo Chamber of Commerce, Destination Toledo and the University of Toledo, are incredible because Toledo has a good story to tell. I think we need to step up our efforts to get that good word out.”
The Toledo Region Story is an effort by both public and private organizations to develop a unified brand for the region. Last year, the group hosted public events to develop Toledo’s story.
Now that the story is developed, organizations involved are working toward getting out Toledo’s message of a new manufacturing economy.
To see Forbes’ rankings, visit www.forbes.com/2011/02/02/stockton-miami-cleveland-business-washington-miserable-cities.
Tags: Bill Kitson, D. Michael Collins, Destination Toledo, Forbes, Joe McNamara, Mike Craig, Miserable cities, Rachel Richardson, United Way, Wendy Gramza