- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
Clark County’s population dropped by more than 1,000 residents last year to its lowest level in more than five decades.
Creating more jobs will be key to reversing that and bringing people back to Clark County, local leaders and residents said.
As of last July, Clark County’s population is estimated at 134,786 people, the lowest since 1962, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.
Clark County’s population peaked in 1971, according to Census data. It’s estimated to have lost more than 3,500 people — an average of about 500 per year — since the 2010 census. It lost 1,029 residents between July 2015 and July 2016, the fifth-most in the state, the data says.
While it’s disheartening to see the county lose about 2.6 percent of its population since the 2010 census, Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt believes the community sits on the verge of bringing people back.
“I’ve seen so much stuff happen in the last year that I think is moving us back in the right direction,” she said. “I feel like we’re about ready to hit the scales and grow again.”
Several job announcements and expansions have provided positive momentum, such as the proposed Kroger on Ohio 72 and upgrades to the area near Interstate 70 and the Clark County Fairgrounds, County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.
The county also has stepped up its efforts when it comes to economic and workforce development through the Community Improvement Corp., he said.
“We’re doing all the right things for our economy, which will bring people back and get people to stay,” Lohnes said. “The more jobs we bring here, the more rooftops (we’ll create).”
Flax Wilt knows several people who have moved back to the county with plans of living here and commuting to places like Columbus. The Young Professionals organization has a big role in the community, she said, and works hard to attract and retain talented people.
Jobs and workforce development play a key role in those efforts, she said.
“That’s what brings people here to live,” Flax Wilt said. “It increases our population.”
Flax Wilt, a South Charleston native who also owns local public relations firm Wilt PR, chose Springfield to start her business because of low costs and proximity to Dayton and Columbus, she said.
However, her company is also competing with other businesses in larger cities for quality employees, she said.
“(Employees) need to have a sense of belonging in order to stay here,” she said.
The aging population in Clark County is also dying and young people are leaving, County Commissioner Lowell McGlothin said. Since the 2010 census, there have been 493 more deaths than births, census data shows.
“The kids are going away to school and they’re not coming back,” McGlothin said. “The reason they’re not coming back is because they don’t have a job to come back to. It’s a Catch-22 in that respect but I think we’re on the right track. A lot of communities are having that problem.”
Springfield resident Anita House wasn’t surprised to hear Clark County’s population dipped.
“There’s not too much to offer here in Springfield,” House said. “There’s no jobs, no entertainment, nothing for young people. I don’t know what any solution would be.”
Attractive jobs are key to moving forward, she said, especially to attract young people with families.
“You have to have disposable income to do different things, but when you do, you have to go out of town to do them,” House said.
Champaign County’s population was at about 40,000 residents in 2010, the largest in its history. However, over the past six years, that number has dropped to about 38,700, census data shows.
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Champaign County has also lost about 3.4 percent of its population over the past six years.
There aren’t as many farmers as there were in the past, Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett said, but he doesn’t believe a lack of jobs is playing a role in people leaving. There are plenty of employers looking for help with good pay, he said.
“I could take you to 10 places looking for help,” Corbett said. “I think it’s a cultural thing as much as it as a job thing.”
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