A Tale of Two Cities | Columbus and Indianapolis

A few months ago, we published a blog about the population within 500 miles of select metropolitan areas (Click here for blog). We found Columbus to be ranked #1 in terms of population within 500 miles at 145,445,780 people, thus outranking cities like Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, etc. Another city worth mentioning is Indianapolis; this city ranked 10th on our list with 124,442,567. Not only are Columbus and Indianapolis geographically close to one another, but they are also very similar in size and population. We thought it would be interesting to compare the two cities using their taxes and infrastructure. Both cities are the capital cities of their respective states (Columbus for Ohio – Indianapolis for Indiana) and have a population between 1.7 and 1.8 million. The maps below show just how these two cities compare with one another.

The first three maps above show the city limits and basic infrastructure of the two cities. The road map and the rail map show just how similar these two cities are from the direction and number of highways and railroads leading into and out of each city. If you’re familiar with either city, then you are also familiar with Interstate 70 and its East-West direction; notice how I-70 is present in Columbus and Indianapolis, thus making it fairly easy to travel between each city and linking the relationship. Seeing how the road and rail system connect the two cities and do not set them too far apart from one another in comparison, how about the airports?

Let’s first take a look at passenger data for each airport (Figure Four). Indianapolis and Columbus are both served by an international airport: Indianapolis International Airport (IND) in Indianapolis and Port Columbus International Airport (CMH) in Columbus. In 2010, IND delivered and received a total of 7,526,414 passengers, compared to 6,366,191 for CMH. In a list of North American airports, both airports rank in the 50s in terms of passengers, but CMH saw a greater growth at 2.1% even at a slightly lower passenger count than IND (0.8% growth). You’ll notice from the map that Columbus has a second airport (to Indianapolis’ one) called Rickenbacker International Airport. This airport primarily functions as a cargo facility and U.S. Air Force base. However, in 2010, the airport served 10,587 passengers (majority of flights to Myrtle Beach).

Figure Five shows the cargo data for each airport. In this category, Indianapolis defeats Columbus by far, with its 1,012,589 metric tons of cargo in 2010 to Columbus’ 4,373 metric tons. In a list of North American airports, IND ranks 8th, thus placing Indianapolis as a relatively favorable location in terms of cargo distribution. Overall, the airports are still similar (with the exception of cargo data) as both serve 34 destinations (Figure Six and Seven).

These last three maps show the tax structure in the two cities/counties. Income tax (Figure Eight) has a different structure for each state. In Ohio, it is levied at the municipal level, awhile in Indiana it is only at the county level. This can become a positive or negative point for either city, since Columbus’ 2.50% may be higher than Indianapolis’ 1.62%, but it can be avoided by moving to another area within Franklin County (Columbus). In Marion County (Indianapolis), the 1.62% is county-wide and thus cannot be avoided. The next tax is property tax (Figure Nine). This tax in both states is levied at the municipal/district level, and in Franklin County, the rates are lower than in Marion County. Perhaps this is how Indianapolis makes up for having a low income tax, and therefore must increase the property tax. Keep in mind that Indianapolis’ city limits take up the majority of Marion County, whereas Columbus’ city limits are only a portion of Franklin County where other municipalities form the rest (Upper Arlington, Whitehall, Grove City, Dublin, etc.). In Franklin County, determining your property tax rates depends on the city within which you live, but in Marion County/Indianapolis, it depends in which taxing district of Indianapolis you live. The last tax is sales tax (Figure Ten), and once again, the structure is different between the two cities/counties. In Ohio each county levies their own sales tax rate with Franklin at 6.75%. In Indiana, they only have one state-wide sales tax rate that is applied to all the counties, thus a 7.00% sales tax is applied to Marion County. Columbus is only .25% lower than Indianapolis, however if you recall our blog from a few weeks ago (Click here to see blog), sales tax rates vary by county in Ohio.
From all of this, we cannot really conclude which location is more favorable over the other. Both cities have similar populations, are in similar geographic locations, have similar infrastructure, and the tax rates are not too far apart, aside from the tax structure. Columbus and Indianapolis are more similar than different.