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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Census Estimate a Good Sign for Region

Posted by: Jeff Rea
President and CEO
St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 12:00:00 am
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Census data help the state and communities make some assumptions about their overall health.

In 1902, the Census Bureau was formed for the purpose of counting the number of people in the United States. The data collected would become valuable for important tasks like allocating federal funds each year and determining the seats of the U.S. House of Representatives to the states based on their population. The data is to be collected every 10 years.

Throughout the other years, the bureau conducts dozens of other censuses and surveys, including the American Community Survey, the U.S. Economic Census and the Current Population Survey. The various censuses and surveys conducted by the bureau today help allocate more than $400 billion in federal money every year and help states, local communities and businesses make informed decisions.

The bureau has recently released its 2015 population estimates. Indiana’s growth remains slow, with more than half of Indiana counties losing population. Overall, Indiana has grown at about 2 percent since the last decennial census in 2010. But Indiana’s growth outpaces our neighbors in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. The Midwest is growing at only 0.3 percent.

Most growth in Indiana has been in the center of the state, with four of the five fastest-growing counties surrounding Indianapolis. Generally, those suburbs outside metro areas have experienced the most gains while rural counties have experienced the most losses.

In our area, the populations of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties have increased again; both are among the faster growing counties outside the center of the state. In 58 of Indiana’s 92 counties, the population shrank or stayed flat. In St. Joseph County, we’re bucking a trend that included decades of population stagnation.

Population growth is at the center of the Regional Cities mission. Experts had predicted slow to no growth for our area, but Regional Cities projects are intended to help buck that trend. We’re off to a good start, but it’s a little early to celebrate our success.

A closer look at South Bend estimates shows growth for the fourth straight year, reversing a trend of population decline that lasted several decades. In all, population has grown by only 719, with the trend being what should excite us most, even more than the number.

Population growth will be critical in the years to come to help fill new housing inventory currently under construction. Though single family residential growth has remained slow, in the next few years several hundred residential units are set to come to downtown South Bend and Mishawaka as well as on Mishawaka’s north side.

The people of our region play an important role in continuing this recent growth trend. Reach out to those friends and family who have left the area and tell them about all that has changed since they left. Or reach out to those former classmates or associates who have yet to experience our area and invite them for a visit.

While they’re here, be our chief salesperson.

We must build upon our moderate growth, complete key projects that will improve the quality of place, and attract young people to our region. Our future depends on it.

First Published in the South Bend Tribune on May 25, 2016