Census numbers 2018 for Clark and Champaign County were released this month and data shows that the population of Clark County has been declining for 10 straight years. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Population declines slowing in Clark, Champaign

Clark and Champaign county have both seen steady declines in population since 2010, but the hemorrhaging appears to be slowing, recent population estimates from the United States Census Bureau show.

Released every year, population estimates give local governments a glimpse into population shifts in their communities. While estimates show that both counties experienced declining populations over the last several years, the worst may be coming to an end, Bill LaFayette, an economist and owner of Regionomics, a Columbus-based economics and workforce consulting firm said.

The estimated population for Clark County in 2018 was 134,585, down slightly from 134,649 in 2017. In Champaign County, it was 38,754 in 2018 as compared to 38,824 in 2017.

“When you look at the chart, the big story is this,” LaFayette said. “Although Clark County is losing population, it’s losing population at a slower rate than it once was.”

LaFayette is right - and the same statement rings true for Champaign County as well

Between 2015 and 2016 alone, Clark County’s estimated population dropped by more than 1,000 residents.

In Champaign County, between 2010 and 2016, the county lost an estimated 1,358 residents.

However, between 2016 and 2018, Clark County lost just 116 residents. Champaign only lost an estimated 70 residents during that same time period.

Clark and Champaign County officials and LaFayette have pointed to two things they say has slow their population declines over the last three years; jobs and cost of living.

Economic development

MORE: Unemployment report is ‘great news’ for Clark, Champaign counties

“I would guess the reason for the decline slowing is the economy,” LaFayette said. “More jobs are popping up.”

Jobs are the biggest factor when it comes to why a resident moves to, or from, an area, LaFayette said.

So far in 2019, the unemployment rate has continued to fall, according to data by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

The unemployment rate dropped to 4.1 percent in Clark County in March, down 1.3 percent since the start of the year. In Champaign, it has dropped 1.1 percent for the year, finishing at 3.4 percent in March.

Melanie Flax Wilt, Clark County Commissioner, said within the last couple of years, Clark County has turned their attention to workforce development.

“Workforce development is huge for us,” Flax Wilt said. “We’ve been focused on bringing new jobs here.”

The decision to focus more on economic development is bolstered by a 2018 labor market analysis conducted by the University of Cincinnati Economic Center, in collaboration with the Chamber of Greater Springfield.

The analysis found about 54 percent of residents in Clark County travel to neighboring counties for work.

About 20 percent of residents surveyed for the study told researchers they travel to other counties because they don’t believe jobs are available in Clark County in their industry. Around 44 percent of those surveyed cited better wages in other counties.

Flax Wilt said people within Clark County have come together over the course of the last couple of years.

“It’s an exciting time in Clark County. I see it everywhere I go. I believe people recognize that we are trying to make positive changes,” Flax Wilt said. “People recognize that this county has a lot to offer.”

Cost of living

MORE: Strong home sales in Clark, Champaign highlight local housing shortage

Bryan Heck, Springfield City Manager, said living in Clark County allows people to, “see their dollar going further.”

“I think it’s an attractive area to them,” Heck said. “We’ve worked to bring additional jobs and that helps, of course, but the cost of living is also low compared to other regions.”

Steven Hess, Champaign County Commissioner, agrees.

“Whether it’s a lower cost of living or a job, it doesn’t matter,” Hess said. “Whatever gets people here.”

A low cost of living is what brought Gerard Milewski and his family to Springfield. Milewski said he, his wife and two children, ages 3 and 10, moved to Springfield in 2017 from Cincinnati.

“Being able to buy a home for cheap was a huge selling point,” Milewski said.

Because of low cost of living, Milewski said he doesn’t see the population decline as a bad thing.

“The population decline doesn’t bother me,” Milewski said. “I think it encourages people to move to the community, people like me, to move here and put money into a home.”

Homes in Clark and Champaign County sold quicker in 2018 than in 2017, according to statistics gathered by Western Regional Information Systems & Technology, an Ohio-based company that monitors real estate trends, including in Clark and Champaign.

Data from WRIST shows that 364 homes were sold last year in Clark County, up 23 from 2017, and 380 homes were sold in Champaign, up 15 from 2017.

It was a transition settling into a smaller community, Milewski said, but since then his family enjoys living in Springfield.

“The city has potential,” Milewski said. “I’ve seen smaller communities like Springfield, in Cincinnati, turn into big cities and I think the city and the county do a good job of focusing on local issues.”

Because Clark County is a smaller county, Milewski said, it can allow local governments to focus on more localized issues.

“In Cincinnati the city government is focused on major league sports teams, stuff like that, which in the long run doesn’t really affect every day people,” Milewski said. “Here, the county - local government - they are focused on small businesses and how to improve life for the average person.”

Marcia Bailey, Director of the Champaign Economic Partnership, said counties across Ohio, like Clark and Champaign county, should focus on marketing themselves to, “the average person.”

“We need to make certain we are marketing ourselves to attract and increase our population,” Bailey said.

In marketing themselves, counties should play on their strengths, Bailey said.

“The lifestyle, career choices, new schools, growing up here and now retiring, wanting to live in a more relaxed community with a lower cost of living,” Bailey said. “I see a positive indication in our population that we are building on things like that.”

‘It tells you more about your community than anything else’

MORE: Labor study shows Clark County is losing workers to neighbors

While there are theories as to why the population in Clark and Champaign county might be leveling off, more concrete answers probably won’t be available until late 2020, when results of the national decennial census will be released.

Although the U.S. Census Bureau carries out hundreds of surveys every year, like population estimates, its most well known duty is still to conduct the decennial census.

According to the United States Census Bureau’s website, a decennial census: determines the distribution of Congressional seats, makes planning decisions about community services such as where to build new roads, distributing more than $675 billion in federal funds to local and state governments and provide age information for social security and other retirement benefits.

“It controls a lot,” LaFayette said.

It also allows people to better understand their communities, LaFayette said.

“The census can tell you the characteristics of the population, earnings, education level, age distribution, whether or not people have been working, where people have been working,” LaFayette said.

That’s why, he said, it’s important for residents to participate in the count taken every 10 years.

“It tells you more about your community than anything else,” LaFayette said.

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