The slow trickle of residents who are opting to leave Lorain and Elyria, the two major cities of Lorain County, has continued at a pace of hundreds per year since the 2010 census was taken.
New U.S. census numbers out this week for cities with populations of more than 50,000 people show that Elyria and Lorain both lost residents. While the numbers are a small percentage of the state’s overall population, it is further evidence that Ohio’s largest cities are steadily losing residents.
Elyria had a population of 54,533 in April 2010, which is estimated to have dropped by 0.8 percent to 54,086 by July 2012.
Lorain lost residents at a slightly lower rate as it went from 64,097 residents in April 2010 to an estimated 63,707 residents in July 2012, for a loss of 0.6 percent of its population.
Hunter Morrison, director of Vibrant NEO, an organization geared toward planning a more sustainable future for Northeast Ohio, said all hope is not lost for Ohio’s shrinking cities even though the census data may suggest the population slide will continue for years.
“We’ve seen bigger drops, so this is a hopeful sign that communities are doing the work of trying to get ahead of abandonment of their cities by residents who move from older communities to new communities in search of their version of the American dream,” he said. “Really understanding your markets is the key lesson for all of us.”
Morrison’s message could easily be applied to many Ohio cities.
Census figures show that 14 out of 15 Ohio cities with at least 50,000 people had slight population declines from 2010 to July 1, 2012. During the same period, nine out of 10 of the 729 larger cities nationwide had population gains.
Ohio didn’t fare well by comparison to other cities across the nation. Every large city with the exception of Columbus was ranked near the bottom in terms of population change. Youngstown was listed last — the only city in the nation to lose more than 2 percent of its population the past two years.
These latest figures are estimates based on collected vital statistics, including birth, death, tax, Medicare enrollment and building permit records.
Ohio’s total population, however, showed a slight gain — 0.1 percent — during that period, indicating more people may have moved from the cities to the suburbs and rural areas, said Wendy Manning, director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University.
“But it’s still not good to be on the bottom,” Manning said. “On average, the U.S. percentage change in population is up 1.7 percent, so we certainly lag behind the national average.”
Ohio, Manning explained, is “not as much of a draw for immigrant groups ... we’re more of an aging state, and we don’t have a real high birth rate. I think a real concern is states like Ohio losing young population to states in the South and the West.”
Where cities like Elyria, Lorain, Cleveland and Youngstown can learn is how to create a value proposition that people can buy into, Morrison said. It starts by understanding what the niche is in the community and telling that story.
“You are going to have to determine why people want to live in your city and how you compare in the market,” he said. “It’s not a mass market thing. It’s a very nuanced thing to see where you can be headed if you use your assets.”
The seven cities that had the worst population loss by percentage were Cleveland, Youngstown and five Michigan cities, including Detroit.
Columbus’ population was up 2.7 percent, making it the 278th fastest growing city in the country.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.