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Cosmic, as a resident of the state of Ohio since 1968, the year I moved here at age six (barring a 2 year hiatus in S. CA), I have to agree with everything that you've said. Unfortunately, even parts of NE OH are the same. Frankly, at my age of 44, I'm not getting any younger or thinner here, and the "going nowhere fast" attitude, the type of mindset you talk about in your post, is the norm where I live as well. Our town has no grocery store, very few businesses, the only jobs in town are given to people who are in the "loop", someone's family member.
Yup, with many of the places it is part of the deal. You can't have it all different ways. Strangely enough in some of the SE counties, they still have towns with the downtown areas intact. They ensure no big box stores are going to be able to get into the area. Can be good, can be bad. There is a lot of nepotism but that comes with the territory. I guess it is probably because they know what has happened in too many other areas of the country and it is sort of a defense. Most seem to be able to adapt to the situations as is. Everybody seems to be everybody else cousin in some way or the other. Certainly acts to control any type of above board crime. Be creative in how you steal something.
The difference between a lot of other places, the people who run things tend to stay in the background. You get your Pro's and then there are the Con's.
In Monroe County there is this connection to the Akron-Canton area. Many of the people from Monroe County went there way back when during WW-II to work in the war industries. They sometimes bought vacation homes, etc back in Monroe County or wanted to move back when they retired. Huge difference in housing prices and cost of living. They could bank some good bucks on the move but still be within a culture and comfort zone they liked.
So that explains part of how much of SE Ohio is geared to work. It has some type of relation to somewhere else or is tied to some other factor, like large coal mining companies, timber interests, people with good amounts of money who want to keep it sort of like their own playground. With the right connections, or if you can start the right small business can make some good money without many hassles. Just don't try to be too much of a Lone Ranger.
The overall area has been losing population but that probably has stabilized now. You can get some weird situations. Like they spend just about all the real estate tax revenues on schools but the schools are ratty. The locals never will vote to increase taxes for anything. Lean and mean is very in. Not that much corruption in local government, everybody watches everybody else. Much of the thinking is driven by a large retired population. Same for those in farming or those already in some business, any development won't serve to help them, probably tend to hurt them.
So your best bet is look at the map and try to pick the larger cities / towns in the region. Better understand exactly what the atmosphere is in each one before going there. Independence is the name of the game.
There is also this strange idea of people in the big towns (anything bigger than their's) are so much different.
And yes, in many places it has led to having to go 50 miles for milk, bread or gas. Or if it is available, bring your wallet, huge mark up in Paradise.
I still prefer it with all the warts. You can figure ways around most of the negatives. Like shopping trips to the major cities on some periodic basis. One trick is maybe stay more in the rural areas outside of a town boundary itself. Some places can have some petty ordances, or locals that want too much to be in charge.
If you marry into the system probably is one way, even that may take some time to learn the rules. Just be sure to tell everybody else you are on their side. Try to charge for any work you volunteer for.
Little bit like the Mafia, just make sure you don't do anything to get wacked, always be everybody else buddy except when he is about to get wacked. Having prison or Old Yankee experience like maybe in Boston helps.
I know Columbus has had the best growth. I like the character in the other cities more than Columbus'. I would probably rather live in Cincinnati or Cleveland suburbs. Even Dayton more than Columbus. But most of all I would like to live in a newer modern city in the southern foothills of Ohio. Yea I know it probably wont happen. Not unless a leprechaun leaves me a fortune to build it with. Never liked Columbus that much. It has the least character and most ordinary architecture. Plus its in the middle of a valley with almost totally flat land.
I wouldnt live anywhere NEAR cleveland...too many people for my taste..and WAY too much snow...(my wife is from AUROra and tells horror stories about 8-10in overnight everynight for weeks!!)..
and Dayton IS a suburb of cincy...at least its almost seamless between the 2..and the climate is almost the same as cleveland in the summer..and alot better in the winter...
now growing up in col's..it is a nicer city..but I needed to get out of the daily rat-race...now it thats for you..and your a social butterfly..col's is THE place..so much to do..so many people to meet...and YES a large and growing population of gay's..its a pretty liberal town..and the universities/art colleges contribute to that..(but not a biggie..and to each their own...and 99% of them you'd never know..its not openly flaunted..kinda like not talking about your "activites"...its there..it happens..not too many people make a big deal out of it..)
and as already said..the infestructure just isnt there for south eastern and north western ohio...not too many large companies..and more leaving all the time..its rural communities that tend to "take care of their own"..
cosmic, wow you hit on the nail, i like your post, i swear it sound like your talking about my town. everything you said it is very true. I was very lcuky to get on with the school since i out sider, but i tell you it went thur alot of hoops and red tape, past the superintent to get me there. the broad didnt even know my boss wanted me to have the job, and then the superintent didnt want me to have it, i had to go thur the broad and alot of red tape and won my case and got my job. but it who you are or who your relative to in the system around here.
Much of what you said in there seems to concur with the advice I've given about my own hometownóbut which is also applicable to Southern/SE Ohio at large. And that is...
Southern Ohio folks are welcoming to outsiders as long as said outsiders respect the people there for who they are, and accept their ways of doing things. Anyone who comes in and immediately tries to change everything will not be warmly received.
But if you're adaptable and can adjust to the way things are in Southern Ohio, you'll fit in more easily and feel like a part of the community much sooner.
Two traits I've heard most often ascribed to residents of small towns and rural areas, esp. in Southern Ohio but could be anywhere, are  friendliness and  resistance to change. I tend to be an example of both
I would also respond to the original question, that part of SE Ohio's unique charm is the very fact it does not have any large "progressive" cities! That means...NO big-box stores, chain restaurants, cookie-cutter subdivisions, aggravating traffic, jammed freeways, etc.
Quite the contrary, Ohio's Appalachia is just the kind of slower paced, peaceful place that one can go to escape all that crap and experience beauty, relaxation and tranquility
Isn't what deems southern Ohio charming and attractive the fact that it is rural, that it isn't overly populated, that it is made up of small towns and cities (where progressive may mean something else altogether), that there isn't concrete and asphalt as far as the eye can see?
And "nice cities around Shawnee State Forest" would mean decimating that which makes the area so attractive, wouldn't it?
It's interesting to hear people talk about SE Ohio.
I am from Monroe County originally and over 4 generations of my family have lived in the same small town: Cameron, OH which is in the middle of this area called Appalachia Ohio.
I tend to think that we do take on a lot of the characteristics of our friendly West Virginian neighbors and honestly, I would be proud to call myself a West Virginian because they are really no differences between WV'ians and Ohioans from this area.
And I have to agree and confirm what has been previously said in this post:
1). The area will probably never be economically developed (I'm in the IT business and I had to leave to go to school and realized that I would probably never be able to find work in my field...and it was true. I have moved elsewhere).
2). People are very friendly and trusting. And it is all about the families. Generally, people will ask you who your dad or grandparents are and reply something like "Oh... I remember them. I worked with your uncle for 30 years down at the plant". There's something really wonderful about being proud of your family ties and heritage. Work ethic is a really big deal here too. If you're a hard worker or come from a hard working family, that's equivalent to coming from an affluent family in larger cities.
And yes, the houses (and land) are smaller and cheaper and you have a yard usually and you will know your neighbors... they will know you. There is no real privacy. (that's both an advantage and a disadvantage)
But... remember in all the advantages... if you're wanting a wal-mart around the corner, forget it. You may have to drive 30 miles. But the plus to that is, you will never ever get stuck in traffic--unless the road is under construction and cut down to only one lane of traffic.
Well, I unfortunately have to cut this short. But I welcome any questions from anyone (I am a native to this area and I can probably answer any inquisition you may have).
But if I had to recommend a small city that would still have the quiet charms of the Southern Ohio area, I would recommend either Marietta or Steubenville. Both are along the river and beautiful and the weather is moderate. Steubenville in particular is great because you're very close to the WV border, close to a major interstate and within 1.5 hrs of Pittsburgh.
But again, these are not large or even moderately large cities but they do have some "civilization" (ha!) to them.
To answer the question, Ohioans and everybody else, will never populate Southern Ohio. I have been down there a couple times and there is nothing charming about it other than the fact that you are in the middle of nowhere and dont have to worry about city lights and crime. Its like the south and its pretty racist down there and Ive seen it first hand, but other thatn the racism people are pretty nice. I dont have a problem with places staying the same as they are and not modernizing but I could never live in a place like that. They literally have places down there where you have to drive half an hour to just get to a corner store.
I grew up in Central Elyria which is urban and Ive lived in the Cleveland metro my whole life so I dont know much about rural areas but Ive been there and I dont like anything about it. Its nice to visit those places to get away from things once in a while but I could never imagine being down there for more than a week.
What OhioT said is definetely not true. Southern Ohio generally gets about 20 inches of snow a year and on average the Cleveland area gets 50 inches a year. Erie and Buffalo both get around 100 inches of snowa year, and so doesa lot of Michigan so Cleveland is nowhere near bad compared to some places. I have never seen 10 inches of snow come down in one fall more than once in a whole year so I dont know where you got that information from. Dayton IS not a suburb of Cincy. How could it be a suburb if its 40 miles away, and it developed in the 30s-40s? The Cleveland area does have a lot of people(3 million in the Cleveland-Akron area) but I dont have a problem with that.
I would love to move down there near the Wayne National Forest. There seemed to be a lack of jobs down there, though.
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