Estimates for 2017, released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, show the county lost almost 1,000 people between 2016 and 2017, mostly because people moved somewhere else.

Stark County's population has dropped again.

Estimates for 2017, released today by the U.S. Census Bureau, show the county lost almost 1,000 residents between 2016 and 2017, mostly because people moved somewhere else. This is the third year in a row the county's population has declined.

The news isn't unexpected; state projections show Stark County's population is expected to dip below 370,000 by 2020. And business, nonprofit and government leaders in the county this past summer released a data-driven "Strengthening Stark" report that acknowledged the county is becoming less populated, less wealthy and older.

They're now working on a follow-up countywide economic development plan with a hope of reversing the trend.

"This is a problem that is for real," Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei said earlier this year when talking to elected officials about the findings of the report. "... And if you don't take it seriously for yourself, please take it seriously for your grandchildren."

Population loss

Stark County's population decline between July 2016 and June 2017 largely can be attributed to people moving out the county.

While there were births and some migration into the county, more than 1,200 residents left Stark to go somewhere else, for an overall loss of 986 residents.

As of July, Stark County recorded a population of about 372,500. That figure has dropped by more than 2,800 people since 2010, with the biggest losses coming between 2015 and 2016 and between 2016 and 2017.  

Of the 88 counties in Ohio, 45 gained population in the most recent period, and 43 lost population. Stark ranks 26th in percentage of population lost, a Canton Repository analysis shows. The counties that gained the most population were those near Columbus, though nearby Holmes, Summit and Portage counties also saw gains.  

The Canton-Massillon metropolitan statistical area, which includes Carroll County, fared worse than Stark County in the new population estimates; it's down more than 1,200 people. Among the state's largest metropolitan areas, only the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman statistical area lost a higher percentage of its population than did Canton-Massillon.

See the data

 

Growing the population

The fact Stark County continues to become less populated isn't surprising or new. Civic leaders already have identified the problem and started to try to solve it.

Last summer, a group of government, business and nonprofit leaders through the Stark Community Foundation released the "Strengthening Stark" report, which determined Stark is on a path to become "smaller, older and poorer" unless a major financial investment in economic development is made. If nothing happens, the report cautions, the county's tax base will decline, which will make it tougher for government to provide services.

The report broadly suggests the solution is for everyone in the county to work together on projects that will create economic growth and increase opportunity for all county residents. What the report didn't do, however, was put a dollar figure on the amount of money needed to turn the county around or suggest where substantial new revenue might come from. The people who helped present the report didn't, either.

Since then, the Stark County Port Authority — an economic development agency — agreed to fund $150,000 in consulting costs for a follow-up economic plan. That plan is expected to identify challenges and action steps and include metrics to measure success.

Earlier this year, the idea of a possible countywide sales tax increase to fund economic development efforts in Stark was raised at a meeting held to talk about the report. County Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton at the time called the discussion exploratory and said nothing was "etched in stone."

Reach Alison at 330-580-8312 or alison.matas@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @amatasREP