7 signs that Butler County’s economy is strong

Butler County officials all say the numbers people look at to gauge the economy’s health are looking good, the numbers you want to see decrease are down — substantially in some instances — and higher numbers for things like total personal income and sales tax are up compared to the Great Recession earlier in the decade.

“All of our indicators are obviously headed in the right direction,” Butler County Commissioner Don Dixon said about 15 total economic indicators analyzed by the Journal-News. “My approach is to continuously be cautious… but it all looks good.”

RELATED: Butler County economy in good shape

Here are 7 signs that Butler County’s economy is strong:

1. Food stamps drop

Food stamps hit a 10-year high in 2011, during the height of the recession, with $79.9 million distributed. Last year that number dropped to $57.2 million.

Bill Morrison, executive director of Butler County Job and Family Services, said the 28 percent food stamp plummet definitely tells him the economy here is healthy. He said not everyone who receives food stamps are out of work, but they may not be earning a living wage, so they need the assistance.

RELATED: Butler County clamps down on food stamp fraud

He said at the Ohio Means Jobs office in Fairfield they are always trying help people get the higher paying jobs so they can get off public assistance.

“I think it is an indication that our economy is generating jobs that are above minimum wage levels,” he said. “I’ve always heard the number that you have to make $13.50 an hour to generally get out of any public assistance category. So we are always looking at the Ohio Means Jobs center for employment that pays at that level or higher.”

2. Personal income skyrockets

Likewise, 10 years ago personal income for the county was $12.7 billion, that number rocketed to $15.7 billion in 2015.

Per capita personal income, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, went from $35,632 per year in 2007 to $41,534 in 2015.

Butler County Development Director David Fehr said the income numbers are key for him.

He is the point person for the entire county when a new business is looking to come here. He said the goal is not to just attract companies and jobs, but top shelf salaries, like all the medical facilities that have come or are coming — The Christ Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Proton Therapy Center and TriHealth — to Liberty and West Chester townships.

“I’m encouraged to see personal income increase by $2.8 billion from the recession of 2008 and 2009 to the current level,” Fehr said. “My role with the county is to keep expanding not just jobs, but good paying jobs which results in more personal income and money in the pockets of families.”

3. Spending in Butler County increases

Spending within the county has increased significantly with sales tax going from $29.5 million in 2010 to $44 million last year.

Butler County Administrator Charlie Young says sales tax is still a strong indicator the county is on sound economic footing.

“We’ve seen sales tax from its low in 2010 and it is up 49 percent now,” Young said. “What we’re seeing reflective across the board is not only improvement from our worst situation in ‘09, ‘10 and ‘11 but improvements from where we were pre-recession.”

Contributing to the sales tax hike is the fact the number of new businesses coming into the county has doubled since a slump in 2011 and 2012 with 705 entrepreneurs pulling vendor licenses last year. The new business licenses hovered in the range of 400 a year pre-recession and then dropped into the 300s during the bad times.

RELATED: High-end boutique opens in West Chester Twp.

Felisa Insignare said her high-end designer boutique was doing so well online she wanted to branch out into a bricks and mortar store and it has proven to be a big success. She opened Designers Items and More, a new fashion boutique catering to “women who have arrived” recently in West Chester Twp. she specializes in high-end, new, pre-owned, and vintage couture designer clothes, shoes and accessories.

She said she doesn’t know if her business would have flourished if she opened it a several years ago, but successful women are certainly spending money with her now.

“I think the time is now,” she said. “It certainly requires a higher level of income for purchasing a lot of these luxury goods, but I think it’s a women’s economy now.”

4. Drop in tax delinquency rates

Property tax revenues, the main income source for schools, townships, and villages, have been steadily climbing every year. The taxing bodies — every jurisdiction receives a portion of property taxes, with the schools taking the lion’s share — collected $384 million in 2007 and $475.4 million last year.

County Treasurer Nancy Nix said a more telling story has been the drop in delinquency rates.

She reports the delinquency rate hit a high of 6.81 percent in 2012 with $32.3 million in outstanding taxes in the first half of billing. This year the rate has dropped to 3.67 percent and $18.5 million in delinquent taxes.

5. Unemployment numbers drop

Unemployment in the county peaked at 9.3 percent in 2009 and 2010 those numbers were cut in half to 4.4 percent last year. The latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show the county ranked 56th in August with 4.8 percent unemployment.

Unemployment, public assistance and personal income aren’t the only indicators the county has recovered from a recession that nearly toppled the county and nation. Bankruptcies are another indicator that has been nearly halved since a high of 1,931 in 2009 to 943 last year.

Foreclosures too have dropped 60.5 percent from a high of 3,166 in 2010 to 1,250 last year. New single family home permits have also more than doubled to 670 last year, since a 10-year low of 301 in 2011.

6. More passports issued

Passports are an indicator not widely considered when looking at a community’s financial well being, but Butler County Clerk of Courts Mary Swain said they are telling to her.

The county saw a record high 9,067 new passports in 2007, but that was the year just before the price went up substantially. As the economy tanked, so did overseas travel bottoming out at 4,618 passports issued in 2011.

She is projecting her office will issue 6,550 passports this year.

“Based on the recent increased amount of passport applications, and the higher projected application numbers for this year, it appears that international travel has regained popularity among our citizens,” Swain said. “Certainly, this reflects confidence in our economy and is a positive indicator.”

7. More car, boat titles issued

Swain’s office also handles car and boat titles and those have skyrocketed. Car titles dropped to a 10-year low in 2009 at 145,393 and have risen 70 percent to 247,591 titles pulled last year. Boat sales have floated up and down throughout the 10-year period, sinking down to 2,485 in 2011 and rising up to a high of 3,631 in 2015.

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