Erie County exodus continues

SANDUSKY Stand up and be counted in 2010. If you don't it will impact the amount of m
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Stand up and be counted in 2010.

If you don't it will impact the amount of money your local government receives in federal funding for programs that run the gamut from road improvements to jails to housing programs, local political leaders say.

The U.S. Census released population estimates last month and three of the five counties in The Register's coverage area lost population when compared with 2000 census figures.

That should come as no surprise. There have been a slew of news stories chronicling the loss of population from the Rust Belt.

The census bureau uses a formula to estimate the figures. The estimates are based on criteria such as new dwelling building permits, IRS tax returns, birth and death certificates provided and international migration figures provided by the American Community Survey, U.S. Census demographer Greg Harper said.

Erie County suffered the biggest hit. According to 2007 census estimates the number of people living in Erie dropped from 79,551 to 77,323, a loss of 2.8 percent.

Sandusky, the biggest city in Erie County, posted a huge loss in population, as well.

Census figures show the population in the city is dropping faster than a car traveling down the first hill of Cedar Point's Millennium Force roller coaster.

In 2000 the U.S. Census counted 27,844 people living in the city. The July 2007 estimate revealed the number dropped to 25,861 or7.1 percent of the population.

Construction of new homes in the city has dropped over the same period: In 2001 30 new dwelling permits were taken out. Compare that with 25 in 2005, 19 in 2006 and eight in 2007.

Erie County and Sandusky just mirror the trend of people leaving the state. Cleveland lost 8.3 percent of its population from 2000 to 2007, according to census figures.

Some communities are gaining people.

Perkins Township, over the same time frame, increased its population by 3 percent. The 2000 census counted 12,587 people while in 2007 that number increased to 12,847 -- not enough to offset the loss in Sandusky.

The population decline in Erie County is bad news for a county quickly becoming cash strapped and which relies heavily on federal funding for many of its programs.

"A lot of federal and state funding depends on your census," Erie County administrator Mike Bixler said.

"If your census numbers are dropping that's less money you are eligible for in state and federal grants. We're working very hard to try to get an accurate census count. County government relies on it quite a bit," Bixler said.

Sandusky and Seneca counties also lost population, according to the July 1, 2007 census estimates. The census counted 61,792 residents in Sandusky County in 2000 while in July of 2007 counted 60,997 -- a loss of 975 people or 1.3 percent. Seneca County lost 3.5 percent of its population in the same time frame, dropping from 58,683 in 2000 to 56,705 in July of 2007. For those scoring at home that's a loss of 1,978.

The silver lining in all this doom and gloom is that Huron County increased its population from 59,487 in 2000 to 59,801 -- .5 percent increase. Ottawa County increased from 40,985 to 41,084, a .2 percent increase.

Not a huge jump, but it's better than the alternative.

"We're barely breaking even," Huron County auditor Roland Tkach said.

Tim King is a senior planner for Erie County. He takes the 2007 census estimates with a grain of salt. When he and another employee in his office went out and field verified addresses used for the 2007 census estimates they discovered there were 1,700 additional households in Erie County not counted by the census bureau. Taking that into account, he said the 2010 U.S. Census will likely find that Erie County's population will be close to the 2000 number.

"We're right where we are at in 2000 or increase a little bit or lose a little bit. I don't think that 3 percent loss number is accurate," King said.

King emphasized when the 2010 census questionnaires are mailed out in February and March of that year it's crucial that residents respond.

"There is going to be $3 billion dollars of federal funding on the line," King said. "It's extremely important. It's going to be really important. It's going to be here quicker than people think."

Where have all the people gone?

The answer to that is a simple. People are following jobs, Bixler said.

"The auto industry is a good indicator of what's happened. Losing those type of jobs and those businesses from our area has really hurt from a census standpoint," Bixler said.

In years past when employers like Ford and Delphi were humming along, people in Erie County had access to good paying jobs. Sons and daughters would follow in their parents' footsteps into jobs in the auto industry. Those days are long gone, Bixler said.

"The young people who used to follow their dads into the factory in the auto industry are no longer doing that. They are having to move to other cities like Columbus to find work," Bixler said.

What can be done?

Sandusky city commissioner David Waddington remembers a time in the 1960s and 1970s that it seemed as if jobs were growing on trees in his city.

"You could go anywhere and get job," Waddington said.

Waddington's hoping Sandusky and surrounding communities can bring back their flagging economies and stop the population exodus by attracting businesses that specialize in green energy. Waddington and fellow commissioner Dennis Murray created the Erie County Sustainability task force a year ago.

A goal of the task force is to attract businesses that manufacturer wind turbines or solar panels to the area. If the plan becomes a reality Waddington believes that can help plug the brain drain that's sucking away youth heading elsewhere for jobs.

"We need to create an environment to keep kids here. Sustainability is a way to do that. We're in the same boat as a lot of people," Waddington said.

Whether that happens or not, Waddington said he's not going anywhere.

"I'm not giving up. I'm not moving anywhere. I'm still of the mindset that this can get turned around," Waddington said.

(Breakout box)

Timeline of Activities

2010 Census Timeline: Key Dates

Fall 2008

Recruitment begins for local census jobs for early census operations.

Spring 2009

Census employees go door-to-door to update address list nationwide.

Fall 2009

Recruitment begins for census takers needed for peak workload in 2010.

February - March 2010

Census questionnaires are mailed or delivered to households.

April 1, 2010

Census Day

April - July 2010

Census takers visit households that did not return a questionnaire by mail.

December 2010

By law, Census Bureau delivers population counts to President for apportionment.

March 2011

By law, Census Bureau completes delivery of redistricting data to states.

Source: U.S. Census