Recently, the U.S Census Bureau released its 2012 population estimates and various sources of local media were quick to publish what is seemingly a continued trend of population loss.
The Census Bureau's Population Estimation Program(PEP) produces just that, estimates for of the population of the United States, its states, counties, cities and villages. They are used in federal funding allocations to the various political subdivisions, for survey controls, as denominators for vital rates and per capita time series and as indicators of demographic changes. The sources for these population estimates come from data derived from population estimates, information provided to the Bureau by the states and counties, various residential and business surveys, housing unit estimates, county business patterns and building permits. The latest estimates show that the Ohio Valley has lost an estimated 1.2 percent of its population base, or approximately 4,012 residents, amongst the northern panhandle counties of West Virginia and the eastern Ohio counties of Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson and Monroe. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, population declines in eastern Ohio were as follows: Belmont County-1.0%; Harrison County-0.9%; Monroe County-0.6%; and, Jefferson County-1.9%.
While it seems to be important for the federal government to continually and periodically release these estimates, it is more important that local governments recognize that these figures are simply estimates that are very subjective with no truly valid and scientific sources. Our elected and appointed officials should take a quick look at the figures but then dismiss them as the federal government's procedure on how to fairly apportion monies from its budget.
The bigger, more vital issue that we face is our ability to continue to formulate, create and lay the foundation for population growth.
At the forefront is government's continued need to properly create a business climate that will lead to job growth.
Our elected officials must remain intent and focused on creating an economic climate wherein private developers will look to locate and create jobs. It is very clear and the statistics prove that with job growth comes additional residential and commercial growth, which ultimately leads to population increases instead of the declining trend the Ohio Valley has seen for years now. While government does not create jobs beyond its own boundaries, it is the core unit in establishing the items such as infrastructure(roads, bridges, water and sewer lines, broadband and other technology) that the private sector wants and needs to locate and operate businesses. While the Ohio Valley is blessed with a great transportation network of the Ohio River, Interstate 70 and US Route 40, State Routes 2 and 7 and a class A railroad network, we still can improve that system with more broadband technology and job ready sites that seem to be more prevalent these past few years. The more our elected officials recognize the need to lay the foundation for job growth, the more business the Ohio Valley will attract and the end net result will be increased population growth. The private sector will always be the creator of jobs with small businesses being the most important part of the Ohio Valley's future growth.
In the short term, we are seeing the embryonic signs of what can possibly be the greatest economic boom in the history of the Ohio Valley, even bigger than when steel, glass and coal were in its heyday.
Much has been discussed about the oil and gas industry and its arrival in the Ohio Valley and it becomes important to embrace it at this point. To date, it has created and solidified many local jobs and it there seems to be no end in sight to the industry's growth in the Ohio Valley. There continues to be people moving into the area, albeit some only on a temporary basis.
Regardless, said population migration creates a business growth domino effect on many Ohio Valley businesses. Many of our existing businesses are directly affected by the shale boom while others are indirectly affected and both in mostly positive ways. From the negative side though, our already aged infrastructure will further deteriorate and government needs to address that now and hopefully work together with these private companies who have invaded the Ohio Valley.
We too are seeing the beginning of a so-called real estate boom with many single family homes selling well this year to date while local landlords have never seen such a demand for rental units.
As we see more properties being built over the next few years, this too will help reverse the population decline of the past 30 or so years.
Finally, in the long term, things seemingly look positive for the Ohio Valley's business climate and we will definitely see more job opportunities over the next 10 years or more. Thus, the recent media attention to the population losses of the last two years should be quickly dismissed as simply unqualified and unsubstantiated estimates.
All of us in the private and public sectors should continue to focus on job and housing growth, improvements in our public education system and to continue to capitalize on great quality of life issues such as parks and recreation, arts and entertainment, excellent education institutions and a relatively low crime rate.
With all of that and our ability to keep our younger people locally employed, the next rounds of population estimates should be positive ones.