Rome’s Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area could be in jeopardy if a proposal from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget is implemented.
The agency is seeking to increase the threshold for that status from 50,000 to 100,000 which would put this area, which includes Floyd County, just under the wire.
The Census Bureau estimated Floyd County’s population at 98,498 as of July 1, 2019 — up 2,281 residents from the official Census count in 2010.
The purpose of the statistical area designation has not changed since the standards were first established 70 years ago, to provide a nationally consistent set of delineations for collecting, tabulating, and publishing federal statistics for geographic areas.
What might losing MSA status for the community mean?
At first blush, the greatest concern from city leaders is that Rome could lose its annual Community Development Block Grant entitlement funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Community Development Director Bekki Fox does not think that will be the case. Her understanding of the OMB proposal is that it would only apply to communities that were established as entitlement communities within the past two years.
If it were to apply to Rome, it would be a devastating loss. Rome’s 2021 entitlement amounted to $466,386.
“We have much more flexibility. We can use those funds for anything that HUD allows you to,” Fox said.
Actually, there are more than 30 federal programs alone which use MSA status to help determine funding levels.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the proposed change, claims it “would create unwarranted changes on the distribution of federal assistance.”
There are other serious consequences of losing MSA status. Many retailers won’t even consider putting a store into a community that is not considered to be metropolitan in nature.
Large industrial firms also use MSA status to include — or even more importantly or exclude — communities from a new location search.
Missy Kendrick, president of the Rome-Floyd County Development Authority did not mince any words when she said Rome does not want to lose its MSA status.
“It sets up apart from other communities,” Kendrick said. “I’m hoping that we are going to be over 100,000 and it won’t matter to us.”
Industries use data sets published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis to compare metropolitan areas when they are looking to locate a new facility, she said. Not having those detailed statistics at the click of a mouse will make it much more difficult to get data.
A new company would really want to specifically consider a non-MSA community to do any kind of deep dive to get detailed information about a community.
Jeanne Krueger, president of the Rome Floyd Chamber said the loss of the labor statistics would have a negative impact on the recruitment of retailers and others who are looking to locate in a metro area. She was grasping Friday to figure out what was motivating the change after 70 years.
“Look at our medical community, our four colleges, our strong and diversified manufacturing base,” Krueger said. “Absolutely we are a metropolitan area for all of the Northwest Georgia. We are a hub.”
Robert H. Ledbetter Jr., CEO of Ledbetter Properties, the leading retail developer in Rome, said he would call the loss of MSA status troubling. But stressed that most of the major retailers have access to their own databases of demographic information about communities.
“I don’t see it as a huge problem, but that’s yet to be determined,” Ledbetter said.
Walter Jones, a media consultant with StratSuision said that communities can use the loss of MSA as a rallying call.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Jones said. “You could play on becoming a micropolitan community and emphasize all of the great things that Rome does that are unique.”
Under the proposal now being considered, Rome could regain the metro status with just a small infusion of population. The OMB recommendation includes annual updates to the population figures.
With Rome likely to be less than 2,000 residents away from the 100,000 threshold, it could top the 100,000 figure in a year or two. The OMB plan also includes a five year update.
Five other cities in Georgia are also facing the potential loss of MSA status — Dalton, Albany, Brunswick, Valdosta and Hinesville. Neighboring Gadsden in Alabama is also on the list.
Interested parties can still submit comments regarding the plan through next week. Go online to
https://www.regulations.gov/document/OMB-2021-0001-0001/comment to submit a comment.