July 28, 2014

Elyria
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County grows to the east: Avon, Avon Lake, Ridgeville gain residents, Lorain and Elyria lose

The two largest cities in Lorain County have collectively lost nearly 6,000 people while the county as a whole added more than 16,000 new residents, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Census 2010 population figures show that Lorain County has grown by 5.8 percent since 2000 with double-digit percentage point population increases in Avon Lake, North Ridgeville and Avon, whose population jumped 85 percent since 2000.

The county’s largest cities, Lorain and Elyria, have seen population dips of 6.6 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

Elyria Mayor Bill Grace calls the drop in population modest over the 10-year period, particularly when the housing crisis that affected urban areas is factored in. Grace said Elyria’s population has only dropped a total of 3.9 percent since 1990.

“We are absolutely not where we would like to be, but compared to all of our peers we are faring better,” he said.

Lorain’s population dropped by 4,500, according to Census 2010, and the number of residents — 64,000 — reflects a drop of 10 percent since 1990, when Census figures estimated the population at 71,245.

Grace said he is optimistic that Elyria can reverse the decline by the 2020 Census, and he bases that hope almost entirely on the state of the Elyria school district.

“With all of the conversations I have with Elyria residents and everything I have read both regionally and locally, schools are the biggest factor of why people move in and out of communities,” he said. “The biggest way to grow our population is to grow our household size and that is largely done by attracting adults with young, school-age children.”

Grace said Elyria draws new residents under the age of 25 and under the age of 5, which he believes can be attributed to young newlyweds moving in with young children. But it loses school-age children and those between 30 and 50 years of age, and then the numbers pick back up for those older than 65.

“Newlyweds come to Elyria because the housing stock is cheap and they can find starter homes at a reasonable price,” he said. “But when they begin looking at high schools — and maybe even middle schools — they move. The promising part of that is we are at least grabbing them because of the low cost of living. Now we have to entice them to stay, and it is easier to get people to stay someplace than it is to attract people to come to a place.”

Superintendent Paul Rigda said he sees the state of Elyria Schools as one of three factors that will influence future growth in Elyria. And, while having quality schools is a very important component, affordable housing and jobs cannot be forgotten.

“We are definitely a part of the package like any school district that is successful,” he said. “We need people to appreciate the schools, and we have that. We need affordable places to live, and we have that. But we also need jobs so that people that want to relocate here have a place to work and live. It’s a three-prong solution to the problem.”

Enrollment declines have plagued Elyria Schools for the past 20 years. However, with the start of this school year and the partial opening of the new Elyria High School, Rigda said he sees enrollment leveling off over the next decade.

“I am not an ‘I-told-you-so’ kind of guy, but we told the state that if they gave us the money to build a new high school, we would get the students,” he said. “That has absolutely been the case this year. Unfortunately, this year we had to turn people away from surrounding districts that wanted to go to Elyria Schools because of the high school.”

In Avon Lake, Avon and North Ridgeville, which are all ranked by the state as the top public school districts in the Lorain County, 2010 population figures for the cities showed double-digit increases with Avon leading the way with a 85 percent jump. There, the state rated the district as “Excellent” on the 2009-10 state report card, the most recent report card released.

“Well, it’s the school system,” Avon Mayor Jim Smith said. “Say what you may, but people come here because of the school system. The school system has done such a fantastic job that people just want to get into it.”

In the last 10 years, in response to the population growth, Avon has seen thousands of new homes go up and a commercial and industrial economic explosion. But, Smith said, to determine if the people came because the housing and jobs were in Avon or if the housing and jobs came to Avon because people were moving there is like trying to determine what came first, the chicken or the egg.

“I say that 90 percent of what we do is luck and 10 percent of what we do is not messing up the good luck,” he said. “People come to a community they like, and we have responded to that. We have a full-time Fire Department, which we didn’t have eight years ago. We went from eight patrolmen to 30 plus in that time.”

And, while Avon will likely continue to grow, Smith said the city will not see growth at the same rate again. Five years ago, more than 400 new homes were being built in the city each year. Now, it’s roughly 120 new homes.

“The economy has changed the way people think and the entire way the country operates,” he said. “People are staying in their homes and no longer are thinking that if they move, they have to have new, new, new.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.