Montgomery County continues to shrink; Butler, Warren grow

Montgomery County’s population fell by an estimated 1,648 during the 12 months ending last July 1, according to U.S. Census data released today.

Although the county population, now estimated at 533,116, showed some gains during the early part of the decade, it now has lost about 2,025 since the census in April 2010.

And the estimates show that more than 80 percent (or 1,648) of that population loss occurred from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014, just as the local economy was beginning to regain its footing.

The county gained more than 1,000 residents through what is called natural increase — having more births than deaths. But it lost more than 2,400 people through migration.

The data show that while Montgomery County gained more than 1,000 residents from people moving in from other countries during the 12-month period, it lost almost 3,500 to other counties in Ohio and the U.S.

Previous stories by this newspaper have shown that much of the migration out of Montgomery County is to neighboring exurban counties, as is the case in many urban counties across the country. In Montgomery County’s case, that has meant gains for Greene and Warren counties.

Overall, in the nine-county region, Montgomery County’s population loss was offset by large gains in Warren and Butler counties. The region grew by more than 12,000 (0.7 percent) to reach a population of 1.7 million.

Regional approach

Observers say the depopulation trend in Montgomery County has eroded the local tax base, kept a lid on a housing market still bouncing back from the foreclosure crisis, and left the area with a disproportionate number of elderly residents, as the most-educated and skilled young people have left for better opportunities.

But recent economic development efforts promise to halt, if not reverse, the decades-long demographic shift by creating more local jobs and attracting workers from across the region who ultimately will contribute to growth, according to officials at the Dayton Development Coalition.

“We work closely with Montgomery County, and they are doing everything they can from an economic development standpoint to improve the region, but I’m looking at our progress from more of a regional standpoint,” said Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the development coalition.

He cited efforts to attract new employers to the Dayton area, including Chinese automotive glass manufacturer Fuyao, and Cincinnati-based Procter & Gambler, which will operate a distribution center in Union.

The development coalition serves a 14-county area, according to Hoagland. Many of those counties continue to see growth; Butler, Warren and Greene added a combined 17,070 residents over the past four years, according to Census data.

The trend can be seen in slowly improving jobless rates. Even Montgomery County saw unemployment decline from 6.3 percent in January to 5.5 percent last month, according to figures released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Butler, Warren, and Greene counties also saw sharp declines in unemployment.

At least some of those new workers have planted roots in downtown Dayton, which is beginning to experience its own urban renaissance, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“We are seeing individuals who want to move and are moving back into downtown and the urban center,” Gudorf said. “This is a trend that is happening all over the country, and we’re seeing the same kind of uptick.”

Butler outpaces Warren

Butler County, meanwhile, showed a growth spurt during the 12-month period, surpassing even Warren County by gaining an estimated 2,647 people to Warren’s 2,081.

During the year ending last July 1, Butler County had almost 1,400 more births than deaths, and gained more than 1,300 from net migration.

Births, in particular, have kept hospitals in Butler and Warren counties busy. Overall, 4,572 births were reported in Butler County last year and 2,396 births were reported in Warren County.

Butler County is home to four maternity wards, with another on the way.

University of Cincinnati Health’s West Chester Hospital will open a new maternity ward next month, said Deb Titlebaum, a spokeswoman for the hospital. The hospital anticipates handling 700 births this year and as many as 2,000 in future years.

“We know the population numbers are growing and they reflect the need for choices in the county for families who do want to deliver,” Titlebaum said.

Many couples relocate to Butler County because one spouse works in Cincinnati and the other in Dayton, said David Fehr, the county’s economic development director. Others, he said, want to enroll their child in the Lakota School District or move in from larger cities, such as Cincinnati, to buy a bigger house with a large yard.

With more people living in the county, Fehr said businesses are bound to set up shop. Kroger, for example, announced plans last month to open an expanded marketplace store in Liberty Twp.

“We think retail growth will follow the rooftops,” Fehr said. “(Businesses) don’t make those kind of large investments unless they see population continue to grow.”

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