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The Journal Gazette

Babies behind population rise

But fewer workers coming to city for jobs

– The population is expanding, income is rising, the GDP improving and Allen County’s unemployment rate … well, we’ll have to wait and see Monday.

The county has received some positive economic signs recently on a variety of fronts. Most recently, census figures released last week show Allen County has gained about 5,000 people since the 2010 headcount.

That 1.4 percent growth rate looks particularly favorable given most Indiana counties lost population.

But there’s a caveat: The increase comes from nearly twice as many births as deaths between 2010 and 2012, not from incoming residents. About 500 more people left the county than came in, according to census figures.

More babies, while cute, aren’t quite the same as outside workers seeking good jobs. Perhaps the silver lining is that it could be worse.

“As it turns out, we have come out of the recession into the recovery more robustly, particularly early on, than what we traditionally do, which probably would tend to dampen that out-migration effect that we might otherwise have seen,” said John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW

Population trends are one factor in monitoring an economy, and perhaps not always the best one. Knowing it’s harder to visualize for the non-economist, Stafford points to gross domestic product – the economic output of a community – as a better gauge.

Numbers for 2011 released recently show the Fort Wayne metro area’s GDP climbed 1.7 percent from the year before and was higher than half of the 14 other metros Stafford said his group uses for comparison. The cherry on the sundae is that the local GDP bested the national rate by 0.1 percent, Stafford said.

“So we were right in line with the national average,” he added.

In addition, local economic experts are particularly excited that, after years of decline, local per-capita income has leveled off and has even shown a slight rise when compared with the national average. As The Journal Gazette noted in a story last Sunday, local economic experts hope that shows a permanent reversal and point to it as one sign of the county’s economic health.

Around the country, the places with the strongest economies, such as the energy boom states in the Great Plains, also show the greatest population increases, said Matt Kinghorn, economic analyst with the Indiana Business Research Center in Bloomington.

In Indiana, Columbus in Bartholomew County has thrived because of strong employment growth the last couple of years, Kinghorn said. Bartholomew was the fourth-fastest growing county in the state since 2010, according to census estimates.

At the other end of the spectrum are the 58 counties that lost population between 2010 and 2012.

“We haven’t seen anything quite that dramatic since about the mid-1980s,” Kinghorn said.

Even the Indianapolis bedroom communities of Hamilton and Hendricks counties, listed among the fastest growing for years, have slowed in growth since the recession, he said.

“We’re not seeing a whole lot of bounce back yet from the slow movement that you expected to see in 2009, 2010 and whatnot, when we were in the depths of the recession,” Kinghorn said. “So, I think you’re definitely seeing that in Allen County and really around the state.”

What Allen County is increasingly becoming is more of a regional draw for northeast Indiana residents, said Stafford of IPFW’s Community Research Institute.

While the combined population was down 144 among the other nine northeast Indiana counties the institute monitors, Allen County added an estimated 5,000 people, Stafford noted.

“I think it is a continuation of what we’ve been seeing for some time in that it is an ever-increasing concentration of population in urban areas,” he said.

Meanwhile, the latest unemployment rates, another economic indicator, are scheduled to be released Monday. The last report showed a slight upward turn for Allen County, from 7.4 percent in November to 7.9 percent in December. The rate had been as low as 6.9 percent in October.

As with the population figures, Stafford notes the rates are estimates and are to be taken with some skepticism.

“If we see a third month that our rate continues to modestly climb,” he said, “then we ought to be starting to wonder what is happening here.”