Rural Survival: Michigan Population Trends
While population within the state of Michigan has grown in the past few years, that growth isn’t evenly distributed.
Some counties are experiencing booms in population, others are in decline.
Between 2010 and 2018 the Census Bureau estimates that Michigan’s population grew by 111,798 people, however at the same time most Michigan counties declined in population.
Alpena county was one of the counties which declined. Alpena decreased in population by about 4 percent since 2010, 1,157 people.
Alpena County Commissioner, Dave Karschnick, said while some factors for the decline are becoming more clear, the decline isn’t a new issue.
Karschnick said a lot of the decline has to do with the recession, and just general decline in businesses.
Nearly three decades ago, the population was close to 35,000, now it hovers just over 28,000.
Alpena is a community that has undergone a lot of changes over the past few decades, in population and industry.
“Alpena was basically an industry town," Karschnick said, but that changed, as factories closed few jobs opened up to fill the need, so families moved to look elsewhere for work.
Manufacturers moving on wasn’t the only shift in jobs the county has recently experienced. He said the next hit to population came when larger chain stores moved into the area -- local stores couldn’t compete.
The trend may be reversing somewhat, Karschnick explained that industry seems to be making its way back to the area. After a K-Mart closed down three years ago the space was left vacant, and now, the county is working with several small manufacturers who are aiming to move in.
According to Karschnick, the biggest population challenge for Alpena is attracting and keeping younger residents. He said lack of jobs or post-high school opportunities means a lot of people move on as soon as they graduate
Karschnick hopes the new manufacturing jobs and other economic development projects help to make the Alpena area more inviting for young people.
Attracting and keeping younger people isn’t just a problem for counties that are declining in population.
Brad Jewett is on the board of commissioners for Grand Traverse County, which saw an estimated influx of 5,602 people since 2010, roughly a 6 percent increase in population. Jewett said the population increase is mostly consisting of one demographic, the senior population. While the middle-aged and youth populations may be growing, it isn't growing at the same rate as the senior population, he said a lot of people see the Grand Traverse area as a retirement destination.
Grand Traverse County’s population skews older, the Census Bureau estimates that in 2017 the largest age demographic in Traverse City is 55-59, 7.8 percent of the population, nationally the same demographic only accounts for an estimated 6.7 percent of the population. Nationally the largest demographic is 20-24 year olds, totalling to about 7 percent, Grand Traverse County only has about 5.6 percent in the same age group.
Jewett said, "it also tells me that we need to do better to attract businesses to attract more young people into the area.”
Grand Traverse County has a lot of seasonal work, with tourist season and agricultural harvests, Jewett said it isn't doing as good of a job at having year-round work. Jewett hopes more manufacturing jobs can be attracted to the region, and with it workers to be a part of the community all year round.
Jewett said a lot needs to be done to continue the growth in the community. He said one of the toughest parts in continuing to attract people to the area is affordable housing, and that it's a problem they're still trying to solve.
One of the biggest challenges Grand Traverse County needs to overcome is creating affordable housing, Jewett said this is a problem that still needs to be solved. He said the housing is a complicated issue, part of the problem itself being that construction crews are having trouble finding enough workers.
"This is just an attractive place to work and live," said Jewett.
People want to live in the area, the market is here for businesses, it's just about finding the right kinds of businesses and making it easier to find housing in order to bring economic growth to make it more than a retirement or vacation destination.
Alpena and Grand Traverse counties are just two out of 83 counties. Each one is unique, but many experience similar problems when it comes to keeping and growing population. Looking to the future both Karschnick and Jewett were optimistic that their counties would grow in the coming years.