- By Matt Sanctis Staff Writer
Clark County’s population continues to decline but data released from the U.S. Census Bureau today shows the number of residents living in the region might be stabilizing.
And Champaign County actually grew the first time since 2009, the Census Bureau data shows.
Clark County’s estimated population dropped by more than 1,000 residents between 2015 and 2016 alone, but fell by only 64 residents last year.
“Before you can put the population on a positive growth pattern you have to slow the decline,” Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt said. “It sounds like we’re beginning to realize that. You have to slow down and hit the brakes before you can turn around and go the other direction and I think that’s what’s happening right now.”
Clark County’s population peaked in 1971 with about 160,000 residents, according to Census data. By 2010, the population stood at about 138,300 people. Clark County’s population dipped about 2.7 percent from 2010 to 2017.
But Wilt said schools, government officials and other entities have taken steps to make the area more attractive in the past several years. She said she’s optimistic the latest population estimates shows efforts to provide more training for the local workforce and attract jobs are paying dividends.
“It’s not a surprise to me that our population continues to decline,” Wilt said. “It’s also not a surprise to me that it has slowed. Everything I see in the environment from economic development to workforce development and the collaboration between the city and county is very promising for turning our population growth around.”
In Clark County, economic development leaders have touted job growth at manufacturing firms like Navistar. Earlier this week, Topre announced plans for an expansion for an expansion that’s expected to create 200 new jobs and $73 million in investment for a new stamping facility in the Champion City Business Park.
That brings the company’s total investment to about $130 million, with a projected total workforce just shy of 300 employees. Silfex, based in Eaton, is developing a manufacturing plant in Springfield that could create 400 new jobs and lead to $223 million in investment.
Eric Powell, one of the founders of the Young Professionals of Greater Springfield, said he has lived in Clark County his entire life. The region has room for improvement when it comes to attracting and retaining younger workers, he said.
But it’s clear Springfield and Clark County have become more attractive places to live, he said, with several large employers like Speedway and Navistar showing growth.
“I’ve seen changes over time, both positive and negative,” Powell said. “We’re on the upswing and it’s exciting to be a part of. We still have room to go but we’re definitely off to a great start.”
Champaign County’s population hit a peak of about 40,100 residents in 2010 but saw an annual decline beginning in 2011. It fell about 3.4 percent over the next several years, to about 38,700 in 2016. Champaign County finally saw growth between 2016 and 2017 when it added slightly more than 100 residents, according to the new estimates released today.
“We’re all keenly aware of our population and we want to see it increasing,” said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign Economic Partnership. The organization serves as Champaign County’s economic development arm.
Champaign County recently developed a committee to look for ways to market it as a place to live and start businesses, she said.
“As a whole, we’re looking at what we can do to continue that trend back up for population growth,” Bailey said. “With the onset of new medical facilities and the upgrade of our hospital and other developments that have occurred over the past couple years, that’s hopefully drawing more people to live here.”