Ohio State University: As Intel expands into central Ohio, communities must increase housing, planners say

To prepare for Intel’s planned construction of two leading-edge chip factories in Licking County, central Ohio communities must increase and diversify their housing stock, simplify zoning regulations and invest in long-term planning that will support the projected population growth as new jobs are created, regional planners said during a June 3 Ohio State University panel discussion.

The virtual event was the first in “The Impacts of Intel” discussion series hosted this summer by Ohio State’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA).

“This is a big deal for Ohio,” Harvey Miller, the center’s director, said of the Intel development. “We’re going to talk to local experts, both at Ohio State and in the community, and talk about what they think is coming and how we should prepare.”

Panelists included Erin Prosser, city of Columbus assistant director of Housing Strategies; Robert Vogt, real estate market analyst, Vogt Strategic Insights; and Jennifer Noll, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s (MORPC) associate director of Community Development.

Noll said statistics compiled by MORPC indicate that central Ohio’s current population of 2.4 million residents is on track to grow to 3 million residents by 2050, which the Intel development is likely to expedite.

Intel’s expansion into Ohio “proves to us that we can’t take our foot off the accelerator when it comes to preparing for growth,” Noll said. “I think that’s especially true when it comes to housing.”

Over the past decade, central Ohio has experienced a housing shortage stemming from construction not keeping pace with the region’s growth, panelists said.

One solution is to modernize zoning regulations in Columbus and surrounding communities, Noll said. MORPC’s Central Ohio Regional Housing Strategy, which the organization updated in 2021, encourages municipalities to adopt a “green tape development strategy.”

“The idea here is that it can take some time to get a housing proposal through the development review process before (developers) need to break ground, let alone the time it takes to actually build,” she said. “There might be things that communities can do to make that process more efficient, and any sort of time that we can save in the process, you can potentially save (developers) some money on the back end, as well.”

In comparison to the Silicon Valley technology hub in San Francisco’s Bay Area, which also faces housing shortages, central Ohio’s geography is better situated to accommodate a population boom, Vogt said.

“One of the limitations that Silicon Valley has is, essentially, it’s a ‘silicon valley’ – it’s very limited geographically. The one thing we have here in Ohio is a lot of land, and we have the ability to spread ourselves out a bit,” he said. “I think the challenge may be, how do we get that land zoned for the correct housing, how do we get the infrastructure in place to serve it, how do we make utilities available?”

Central Ohio’s natural resources are also benefits that the region offers, Vogt said.

“One of the other advantages that we have is a good water supply to be able to serve many of these new housing units,” he said. “There’s a lot of factors to our favor that I think will not affect us as broadly as it has in some of these other high-end markets.”

Providing adequate housing as Ohio’s population and labor force continue to grow will require municipalities to work with developers to provide a range of options for residents at different income levels, Prosser said.

“We do have affordable housing as you get further out from the center-city,” she said. “But then you are trading that impact directly to the family, where you have a transportation cost burden replacing that housing cost burden, but then you also have the burden to the infrastructure of the roadway system.”

Communities must also incentivize the construction of additional housing units beyond the traditional single-family home, Prosser said.

“I think where Columbus policies have shifted in the last few years is thinking about building up instead of building out,” she said. “How do we facilitate that increased density within our borders so that we can support more families closer to where the job opportunities are?”