Census Shrinking Metros

A map shows metro areas that might lose their designation as metropolitan statistical areas.

Kokomo will keep its metro status for at least several more years after the U.S. Office of Management and Budget this week backed off its proposal to reclassify several small metropolitan areas as micropolitan areas.

The minimum threshold for being classified as a metropolitan statistical area will remain 50,000 residents. In a news release Tuesday, the OMB said it would announce in a Federal Register notice Friday that it would abandon the proposed doubling of the threshold to 100,000 residents.

Local officials are happy to hear the news.

“The City of Kokomo is more than pleased to hear that the OMB has heard the collective concerns of municipalities like ours and has decided not to change the delineation of MSA’s as was being proposed,” Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore said in a press release distributed Friday by U.S. Sen. Mike Braun. “Keeping the MSA Metropolitan designation at 50,000 will allow Kokomo to continue to compete with other larger metropolitan areas for economic development.”

The OMB announced in January that it was considering reclassifying communities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000 to micropolitan statistical areas. A federal interagency, the Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee — which recommended to the OMB that it make the change — argued that the country’s population has more than doubled since the original standards were established in 1950, making them ripe for an update. Back then, about half of U.S. residents lived in metros; now, 86% do.

The proposal, though, set off alarm bells in the heads of many local and state officials in the 144 cities across the country that would’ve been affected by the change due to the possible negative ramifications the change would’ve had to federal funding and economic development.

The city of Kokomo would’ve been one of those cities affected by the change, as the estimated 2015 population of the Kokomo Metropolitan Statistical Area — which includes all of Howard County — is 82,760. Other Indiana cities that would’ve been affected include Terre Haute, Muncie, Columbus and Michigan City-LaPorte.

Originally just a statistical marker, the MSA designation has been morphed into being used in funding decisions for hundreds of federal programs, including Community Development Block Grant programs, that are used for various infrastructure projects in low- and moderate-income areas. Losing an MSA status could also hamper economic development because prospective companies looking for an MSA to develop in would not see Kokomo as a possible option.

“If companies, or site selectors, use MSA status as a filter, we would not have an opportunity to compete for those projects if we lost our MSA status,” Charlie Sparks, president and CEO of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, told the Tribune in March.

A campaign was launched by local, state and officials all across the country to try and convince the OMB to not go forward with the proposal. The proposal also saw pushback from U.S. senators.

Sens. John Thune, R-South Dakota, and Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, introduced legislation in June that would have stopped the Office of Budget and Management from making the change.

The pushback worked.

“Following a public comment period, the Committee submitted a revised recommendation to leave the current Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) core population threshold in place,” the OMB said in its press release.

However, the issue is unlikely to go away. The agency added in its release that it intends to take another look at the metro definitions after the 2030 census.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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