Clark County’s population continues to decline, but the exodus that began in the 1970s is showing signs of slowing down.
New census figures released today estimate that Clark County’s population has dropped by more than 1,770 residents since 2010, putting the area’s population at its lowest since 1963.
Clark County’s population in 2014 was about 136,550, according to population estimates.
But the area lost just 249 residents between 2013 and 2014, according to census estimates, compared to losing more than 540 residents between 2011 and 2012.
The county has had consistent population loss for the past 20 years but that’s tapering off, said Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.
“There’s still a decline, which is obviously concerning. But the fact that it’s stabilizing (is) a good sign,” he said. “Part of the reason we’re seeing that stabilization is that we have employment gains that are certainly balancing some of that.”
The chamber of commerce has worked to reverse the trend, Hobbs said, by marketing the area’s location and quality of life, as well as working to improve area school districts.
Clark County Commissioner John Detrick said the majority of the county’s population loss has occurred in the city of Springfield. The city hasn’t annexed subdivisions as have other growing cities, he said.
“The county’s population has basically stayed the same or fallen off by 1 percent. The population of Springfield has dropped more in proportion than the population of the county,” Detrick said.
The county’s growing older population and large number of snow birds, who live in Springfield but leave in the winter months for Florida or other states with lower or no income taxes, play a role in the county’s population decline, he said.
“This is one of the two big problems facing Clark County since I’ve been a commissioner. I’m concerned about the Tremont City Barrel Fill and our declining population,” Detrick said.
“We’re trying to offset this with jobs and our good quality of life that we’ve got here. And the jobs are starting to turn that around,” he said. “Through our chamber of commerce, our economic development efforts have slowed the decline of the population in the last year.”
Detrick said he’s optimistic with continued job growth Clark County can become a destination for people to live and work.
Jon Doughty, who has lived in Springfield for 60 years, said it makes sense that the population has declined.
“All the money, all the jobs are in Columbus,” he said. “That’s where everyone is going.”
There isn’t anything the community can intentionally do to slow the decline, he said.
“You could move the state capital to Springfield,” Doughty said.
Clark County Commissioner David Herier said he’s also concerned about the county’s population decline.
Job growth, good schools, maintaining facilities and making the county attractive to people are key to turning the tide, Herier said.
Michael McDorman, president of the Chamber of Greater Springfield, said one of the goals of Greater Springfield Moving Forward effort is to turn around the county’s population decline.
Area leaders have worked to develop partnerships that would affect change in the area, he said, but added that the question is whether enough is being done.
It will take collaboration on a common vision to be successful, McDorman said, and the next step will be to craft a community-wide master plan.
“We will need to change on a dime if we are going to be successful,” he said. “Our competition only gets stronger every day.”