Niles leaders urging representatives to keep metropolitan status
NILES – Niles city and business representatives are urging state and federal government officials to keep the area’s Census metropolitan-status intact.
Over the past week, local officials became aware of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s consideration to change the area’s Niles-Benton Harbor Metropolitan Statistical Area to that of a “micropolitan” statistical area.
According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in its notice on recommendations from metropolitan and micropolitan statistical area standards review from Jan. 19, metropolitan statistical areas are currently determined to contain a population of 50,000 people or more in accordance with the Census Bureau delineated urban areas.
“The general concept of a metropolitan statistical area is that of an area containing a large population nucleus and adjacent communities that have a high degree of integration with that nucleus,” the notice said. “The concept of a micropolitan statistical area closely parallels that of a metropolitan statistical area, but a micropolitan statistical area features a smaller nucleus.”
Now, Niles city leaders are fighting the change, saying it would affect funding the city receives for economic development.
“The shift from ‘metropolitan area’ does bring a lot of risk and loss of data that is collected that we could use for recruiting businesses and employment in the general area,” said Niles City Administrator Ric Huff. “It could affect block grants for the community.”
Huff said population base is one of the factors considered for communities to qualify to receive dollars from state and federal grants.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 population count for the city was 11,600. The 2020 Census information has not been posted.
According to Census Reporter, the Niles Metropolitan Area is 567.8 square miles, and includes the Berrien County area. The population total is 153,401.
The shift in designation presents an unknown for both local government and for organizations working to foster the area’s economic growth.
Jeff Rea, president and chief executive officer of the Great Niles Chamber of Commerce, said many of the ways some of the data is grouped from the Census can be confusing.
“I’ve talked to some different folks, and there are a couple really basic things that cause concern,” Rea said
One of those is the designation as a metropolitan or micropolitan area itself.
“I think business owners, in their minds, there is a difference between a metro and micro area,” Rea said.
He felt the comparison of Berrien County’s approximate 150,000 population being delineated as a “micropolitan” may put the area line with more rural, less populace counties.
Rea wants current and future business owners to keep the Niles and Berrien County area on their radar.
“We want people to understand all that southwest Michigan has to offer,” Rea said. “It’s a lot more ‘metro’ than it is ‘micro,’ so we would love for that classification to stay.”
Huff said the city had made their voice heard on the matter.
“We did produce a letter to Congressman Fred Upton, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, and we also did public comment responses back to the Office of Management and Budget voicing our opposition to the topic,” Huff said. “I don’t know how much influence that will have. We took the opportunity that was afforded to us to respond.”
Upton’s office had submitted a response in opposition as well.
“It sounded like Upton was supportive [of keeping the metropolitan status],” Rea said. “We plan to communicate with him on that too, that is has worked.”
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget is a part of The White House. Public comments may be submitted at regulations.gov/commenton/OMB-2021-0001-0001
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