Springfield’s population declines to 90-year low

Data show cities are outgrowing suburbs, but not in Springfield.

Census data released Thursday shows cities are growing faster than surrounding suburban areas for the first time in a century. Instead of migrating to suburbs and starting families, young people are renting apartments in urban areas across the country. In Springfield, however, that’s not the case.

For cities with populations over 50,000, Springfield ranked 699 out of 715 in the U.S., losing .5 percent of its population between April 2010 and July 2011, according to census estimates.

Other cities its size in the region — like Kettering and Hamilton — each saw a 0.3 percent increase in population.

Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said population decline has been long-term trend for the Midwest region. He said city officials are working to lure businesses to Springfield to help bring new jobs to the area.

“We’ve got people working on that every day,” Copeland said.

He also said they’re working to improve community development in Springfield, bringing more homes to the city.

“We’re trying to improve housing stock as we can,” Copeland said. “We’ve got some major efforts going on in that are with the Neighborhood Stabilization Program with new houses being built and old houses being fixed up. That’s trying to keep people in the city and trying to keep them from moving into the county.”

The 2010 census showed Springfield at 60,554, its lowest count since the 1920 census showed 60,840 residents. The census bureau estimated Thursday Springfield had 60,333 people as of June 2011. The city’s population dropped by nearly 5,000 people from 2000 to 2010.

The city’s population topped out at more than 82,000 in 1960 and has declined ever since.

The decline, Copeland said, doesn’t have an impact on bringing new businesses to the city. He said companies are more worried about the quality of the work force and what it will cost for the them to move here.

Several government funds, like Community Development Block Grants and Emergency Shelter Grants, are linked to population. Copeland said while the city could face cuts because of declining population, the majority of the cuts are coming from the national level.

“They’ll affect everyone regardless of what’s happening with their population,” Copeland said.

Holly Overholser, who owns Itsy Fits, a specialty baby and children’s boutique in downtown Springfield, said she’s surprised to hear about the census data.

“We think Springfield is a really great town,” Overholser said. “There’s a real sense of community here, and we like that.”

Overholser, 23, a Springfield native and Northwestern grad, opened the store in November of last year with her husband, Adam, who both returned to Springfield after leaving for college. She said she’s not concerned about the numbers.

“Any time a population is declining, it’s less chance of having a large customer base,” Holly said, “but it seems like the job growth is improving.”

The brother-sister team of Margaret Mattox and Doug McGregor, who own Seasons Bistro and Grille in downtown Springfield, both moved back to Springfield from larger urban areas.

Mattox moved from Nashville when her husband got a job with her family’s manufacturing business in 2007. She said Springfield’s housing market was a lot more attractive than that of Nashville.

“We got a lot more house for our money,” Mattox said. “You get a lot more value out of what you purchase here in Springfield. That was appealing to us.”

Her brother moved back to Springfield from Colorado to open the restaurant with her in 2008. She said they’ve got enough of a niche that they’re able to attract not just people from Springfield, but out of town as well. The restaurant has seen big improvements in sales since it opened in 2008.

“Part of that is growing as a business, and part of that is people seem more willing to spend money and spend money more often,” Mattox said. “They’ll come in multiple times per week. We’re doing more parties. We’re having events again, and that seemed like it slowed down for awhile.”

She said she’s been impressed by the area’s commitment to improve the economy in the area, especially downtown, even with the dip in population.

“It’s been a slow process, and I think it will continue to improve,” Mattox said.

Census figures released in April showed Clark County’s population had hit a 50-year low, dropping from over 160,000 in 1971 to 137,691 in July 2011.

Horton Hobbs, the vice president of economic development for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said job growth is key to population growth. He said groups like Greater Springfield Moving Forward, a coalition which includes the chamber, the city, Clark County and local business and labor leaders, are working to both attract and keep businesses in Springfield.

“We need to make sure we’ve got our mind and our eyes focused on things that will attract folks to our community and retain folks in our community,” Hobbs said.

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