Bismarck, farewell. Sheboygan, your time has come to an end.
These two cities in North Dakota and Wisconsin are two of 144 that the federal government is proposing to declassify from the metropolitan statistical area designation, and it could be more than a semantics issue. Some officials in the affected cities are concerned that the change will have a negative impact on federal funding and economic development.
A metro area would have to have at least 100,000 people in its core city to be considered an MSA under the new proposal, which is double the 50,000-person threshold that has been in place for the past 70 years. Cities with core populations of 50,000 to 100,000 people, such as Bismarck and Sheboygan, would be reclassified as “micropolitan” statistical areas instead of metros.
The recommendations were presented to the Office of Management and Budget by a committee of representatives from federal statistical agencies, who stated that they are only for statistical purposes and would not be included in funding formulas. However, that is how it is commonly used in practice.
Because several housing, transportation, and Medicare reimbursement programs are dependent on communities being designated as metropolitan statistical areas, or MSAs, some city officials are concerned about the change.
According to Patrick Rollens, a spokesman for the city that is home to Oregon State University, the state designates certain funding sources to metropolitan statistical areas, and any change in the city’s status could have a ripple effect, particularly when it comes to transportation funding.
“I’m not going to lie to you. Our MSA designation would be devastating to us if it were to be removed. We aren’t a suburb of any other, larger city in the area, so this is a big part of our identity,” Rollens said in an email. “Losing the designation could have a negative impact on local business recruitment as well as Oregon State University recruitment.”
According to Ben Ehreth, Bismarck’s community development director, if the proposal is approved, it could be the first step toward federal programs adjusting their population thresholds when it comes to distributing money to communities, resulting in funding losses for former metro areas.
“It won’t change any formulas,” Ehreth said, “but we see this as a first step down that path.” “We believe this is going to be the first domino to fall.”
More micropolitan areas, rural communities fear, would intensify competition for federal funds earmarked for rural areas. More than a third of the existing 392 MSAs will be downgraded as a result of the upgrade.
Given that the United States’ population has more than doubled since 1950, statisticians believe the shift in designations has been long overdue. About half of all Americans lived in metro areas back then; today, 86 percent do.
“The population needed to establish a metro area in the 1950s was different than it would be in 2020,” said Rob Santos, president of the American Statistical Association.
Nancy Potok, a former chief statistician for the Office of Management and Budget who assisted in the creation of the new guidelines, agreed that some city leaders would be unhappy with the reforms because they think they would damage attempts to attract employment and businesses to their neighborhoods.
“When you change these designations, there are winners and losers,” Potok said. “When seeking to attract investments, a common criticism comes from economic growth. You’d like to say that you’re a member of a diverse MSA. There is a preconceived notion about it. You feel disadvantaged if your region is kicked out of an MSA.”
Some city officials said that they wanted to investigate the effects of the move. Others were taken aback by the fact that their metro was included in the first place.
In an email, Brian Wheeler, director of communications for the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, said, “Perhaps they made a mistake.”
Although the city of Cape Girardeau, which is on the list, has a resident population of north of 40,000 people, it may have a daytime population of more than 100,000 people as a regional center for southeastern Missouri, according to Alex McElroy, executive director of the Southeast Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The classification update, according to McElroy, “seems a little bit misleading.”
The mayor of Opelika, Alabama, requested the plan to be scrapped in a letter to the federal budget office.
Mayor Gary Fuller said, “The risk to critical services in our city, our state, and the millions of impacted Americans across this country far outweighs any minimal statistical benefit that this proposal may provide.”
The US Census Bureau is considering changing the concept of a metropolitan area in a separate plan. The proposal, which was made public last month, would use housing instead of people to differentiate between urban and rural areas. According to the new proposal, an area will be considered urban if it has 385 housing units per square mile, or roughly 1,000 people per square mile. 500 people per square mile is the current standard.
The adjustments, according to the Census Bureau, are needed to comply with new privacy regulations aimed at preventing individuals from being identified by publicly available data and to provide a more direct measure of density.
Some demographers aren’t convinced that shifting the concept of a metro area is a good idea.
Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire, said, “It seems like all is ad hoc, rather than having been decided by serious study.” “Since 1950, the meanings have remained largely constant. They change these all of a sudden, and there isn’t a convincing research-based mechanism that has guided this decision, at least in my opinion.”
Rollens joked in Corvallis that he was fascinated by the idea of the city being a micropolitan area, implying that the community would profit from thinking small.
“We enjoy our small-batch craft beers and locally grown produce here in Corvallis, so I have no doubt that if we ended up with a ‘micropolitan’ designation, we will find a creative way to market our region,” Rollens said.