Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

May 27, 2014

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Population trends follow state's economic future

Jobs drive people to growing communities

News from the Indiana Business Research Center last week seemed heartening: The state’s four biggest cities are growing fast.

Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville and South Bend all showed dramatic population increases over the past three years. The biggest boom was in the state’s capital, which added 7,000 residents to reach a total population of more than 843,000.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau — analyzed by Business Research Center demographer Matt Kinghorn at Indiana University — shows a spillover in “doughnut” counties around the big cities. Affluent suburbs of Fishers, Carmel and Noblesville all saw numbers swell, as well.

The data were heartening for a state that saw six worrisome years of dwindling growth in the wake of the Great Recession. In just the past year, Indiana added more than 33,120 new Hoosiers to grow its population to 6.57 million.

That’s important, Kinghorn said, because population growth signals an improving economy.

“Here in Indiana, population change goes hand in hand with our economic fortunes,” he said. “So, when the economy is going well, we tend to draw more residents to the state. And, when the economy is slumping, then our population figures slump, as well.”

Sweetening the scenario, Indiana’s population growth has outpaced that of neighboring states.

But Kinghorn, who describes his job “as swimming in the numbers,” sees more than rosy results.

“When you zoom in and look at different parts of the state, you see there are a lot of divergent trends,” he said. “You can really see the role the economy plays.”

As the four big cities do well, plenty of communities are seeing their populations slip. Five of the six cities losing the most residents are in the industrial corner of the state — in Lake County.

Hammond, Gary and Hobart have been in decline numbers-wise for more than a decade, and the trend is only quickening.

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