300by30: Seeking 300K People in SJC
by 2030

Posted by: Jeff Rea, Chamber President and CEO on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 at 11:00:00 am


It’s a pretty simple concept. Communities that don’t grow, die.

Ours suffered through several decades where population growth lagged, and more people left each year than came in. That, of course, didn’t help your business—from a customer or an employee standpoint, as you sought to attract top talent.

The trajectory has changed over the past decade, and St. Joseph County has experienced slow and steady growth. In recent years, that growth has mostly been attributed to more people being born than people moving away or dying. Out-migration continues to be
a concern.

While the overall growth has been positive, it still trails growth numbers in other major Indiana counties, and has been slower than many of the peer communities around the country that we like to compare to. To simplify, even though we’re growing, each day we fall further behind our competition.

We realize this needs to change, and the Chamber has set an ambitious goal of growing St. Joseph County to 300,000 people over the next decade. The Chamber intends to help drive progress toward that goal. 2019 has St. Joseph County population at approximately 271,000.

To achieve this goal, a number of things needs to fall in place. First, we must do all we can to retain the people we have—attract new people. Good paying jobs and key quality of place improvements will contribute to that. We need to convince young people to stay or come back. We need retirees to see the benefits of living here. We need immigrants to see this area as a good option for them. And, we need more students being educated here to stay here. A broad strategy will get us to where we need to be.

The Chamber and Visit South Bend Mishawaka serve as information resources for people seeking to visit or move to our area. In addition, both serve as the voice of the local community, and you’ll see an improved communication effort aimed at better telling our story. After visiting other communities, those communities are not better than ours, but many simply tell a better story.

You’ve told us your chief challenge is attracting top talent. Attracting that talent is a tag-team effort. You introduce prospective hires to an outstanding employment opportunity at your company, and we’ll introduce them to an outstanding community experience. We’ll work closely with your HR team or company leadership to best align efforts and provide you with the appropriate community information to help “seal the deal” when recruiting.

As part of this effort, our army of volunteers will be integrated more. For example, if you are trying to land a young professional to fill that key post, let us know. We’ll send a young professional volunteer your way to help your prospect better understand the community through a peer’s eyes. We are all in this together, and one at a time, as champions, we need to get more people here.

The job situation is still a critical component to attracting new people. Our economic development efforts will play a critical role, and the Chamber will team up with key partners across the region to make sure opportunities exist for those that want to come here. Similarly, our advocacy efforts will ensure key quality of place improvements happen in the region, the tax and business climate is welcoming, schools are improving, and other key elements like roads, trails, trains and planes add to the effort.

This population priority also closely aligns with the work our partners at the South Bend-Elkhart Regional Partnership are doing. One of their five primary regional goals is transforming net domestic migration from -2.13 persons per 1,000 persons annually to a positive net domestic in-migration. In the region, population grew 2.16% between 2010 and 2018. In 2017-2018, that net domestic migration number fell to .8 persons per 1,000. The best way we can help obtain the regional goal is to make sure St. Joseph County is doing its part, and the Chamber will lead that effort.

2020 is an important year, and it's crucial we get off to a good start toward this goal. The 2020 Census should affirm population estimates seen in recent years and help us better project what the future looks like. Please, make sure you, your friends, neighbors and family get counted; a complete count is critical for the area.


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