Peoria Journal Star

June 24, 2003

Marshall, Stark counties added to metro area

By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service
and Journal Star staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. - After 40 years of planning for the Tri-County Area, policy makers in and around Peoria are going to have to expand their thinking.

The federal government has added Stark and Marshall counties to the Peoria-Pekin Metropolitan Statistical Area, which previously included only Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties.

A Bradley University business professor said Monday it's a positive change, one that has potential for attracting more business to the region.

But local leaders aren't sure yet what, if any, impact the re-designation will have on federal funding. The federal government and some state and local governments base program and funding decisions on MSAs.

The expansion will increase the MSA's population from the 347,387 who live in the Tri-County Area to 366,899 in the new five-county statistical area. Marshall County has 13,180 residents and Stark has 6,332, according to the 2000 Census.

That increase will make the five-county area more attractive to retail and service industries looking to expand, said Bernard Goitein, director of Bradley's Center for Business and Economic Research.

"This is the official recognition that we are a larger market" with a larger labor force, Goitein said.

The addition of the two counties and their nearly 20,000 people is getting the Peoria area closer to the upper tier of MSAs, said Jim McConoughey, president of the Heartland Partnership.

"The magic number for the size an MSA needs to be for some sectors of the economy, retail in particular, is 450,000 people. This gets us a little closer to that and makes it easier to show Peoria's MSA is more than just the city or the Tri-County Area," he said.

Diane Oberhelman, CEO of Cullinan Properties Ltd., the firm that developed the Shoppes at Grand Prairie, agreed with McConoughey. She and her company struggled to convince national retailers that Peoria was large enough to support the new mall.

"It was a challenge to convince them to look beyond just the Tri-County. We did a lot of work to show that Peoria was the hub of a much larger geographic area, and they still did their own studies before agreeing with us. So this is a step in the right direction," she said.

Scott Sorrel, assistant to the Peoria County administrator, said the two-county addition "is definitely good for the region because there's a potential to be able to leverage additional (federal) funds because our MSA is larger."

"And it's good for Marshall and Stark because they were just too small to be part of any MSA before," he said.

The only possible downside Sorrel could think of was if Peoria County would have to compete for funding with those new counties, but he doesn't think that's likely.

McConoughey said medical services is another area where the MSA is important, not only to medical professionals but often to patients as well.

"What we look at is the distance people are willing to drive. We push that we offer the same medical services as a large urban center, but people, if they are willing to drive it, often still prefer to go to those urban centers for medical services," he said.

Also, he added, it will help bring the area more federal and state grants if those grants are based on population.

But it's unclear what impact the change will have on other types of federal funding.

For instance, the change may affect federal reimbursements for medical programs, such as Medicare payments to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center for being a teaching hospital, spokesman Chris Lofgren said.

Those payments sometimes are based on medically underserved areas, though Lofgren could not say whether either of the two new MSA counties - both with small populations - fit that designation.

Medicare will not use the revised MSAs until fiscal 2005, according to the Office of Management and Budget.

The last addition to the MSA was in 1963, when Woodford County was added.

Some suggested the new statistical area could encourage better regional planning.

"In terms of transportation, it's something that from a regional planning point of view has some positive aspects," said U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, who represents all five counties.

Residents in Stark and, to a lesser extent, Marshall do tend to travel to Peoria for their shopping and entertainment, LaHood said. "A lot of people work at Caterpillar (Inc.)."

LaHood said he is "surprised that Fulton (County) wasn't included because there are so many people from Farmington and Canton that (travel) to Peoria."

The Fulton County city of Canton has received a newly created designation of "micropolitan" statistical area, reserved for communities of less than 50,000 but more than 10,000 residents. The designation will ensure more data is collected on the community. But beyond that, it's unclear how it will be used, said Sue Ebetsch, coordinator of the Illinois State Data Center with the Illinois Department of Commerce.

The new definitions of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas were developed by the White House Office of Management and Budget after a year-long planning process.

Marshall and Stark counties were added to the Peoria-Pekin MSA because of the number of workers in those counties who commute to Peoria or Tazewell counties, said Michael Ratcliffe, a geographer with the U.S. Census Bureau.

About 33 percent of Stark County workers and 29.7 percent of Marshall County workers are employed in Peoria or Tazewell County, Ratcliffe said. Since 1990, the Census Bureau has changed the requirements for outlying counties to be added to MSAs. The threshold for commuting workers was raised from 15 percent to 25 percent and a population density requirement was dropped, he said.

As a result, "people have to stop thinking of metropolitan statistical areas as urban areas. They are areas that have close ties with that urban community," Ratcliffe said.

An Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman said expansion of the Peoria-Pekin MSA has the potential to affect the state's share of motor fuel taxes, but exactly how is unknown at this point. The funding formula is based on population, and the population for four of the five counties is declining slightly, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2002. Woodford County shows a slight increase, from 35,469 in 2000 to 36,100 estimated for 2002.

MSAs also are used to allocate funds in some federal community development programs and federal employee pay.

One area where the new MSA won't have much impact is in the calculation of unemployment numbers, said Bern Colleran, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

He said the combined population of Stark and Marshall counties is so small, each would need to have nearly 20 percent unemployment before it would affect the Peoria-Pekin MSA unemployment rates.

The Employment Security department plans to begin reporting employment trends for the new five-county region beginning in January 2005, Goitein added.

Stark County Board Chairwoman Sharon Dienst said she hadn't heard of the change. "I'm really not familiar with it at this point," she said Monday.

Marshall County officials could not be reached for comment.

Journal Star reporters Paul Gordon, Jennifer Davis and Elaine Hopkins contributed to this report.