MUNCIE, Ind. – It’s probably not enough to get the drive-thru lines of Chick-fil-A or Starbucks to push deeper down McGalliard Road, but the community has grown a bit for the first time in a decade
Delaware County’s population increase in 2021 was 202 people. The change is notable if for no other reason than it’s the first time in 10 years that the county hasn’t lost population in an annual US Census Bureau estimate.
The growth was not limited to Delaware County. Five of Indiana’s nine east-central counties showed an uptick. Henry County added 50 people, Fayette County added 27, Randolph County increased by 12, and Wayne County added just one person to its population.
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Yet overall, the region is losing people. Grant, Rush, Jay and Blackford counties showed population losses in the estimates. When combined, Indiana’s nine east-central counties showed a decrease of 178 people.
But the estimated population number was refreshing for Delaware County, which has been plagued by a long-term population decline spanning 50 years. The last time census figures showed an increase here was in 2011.
“Mount Pleasant and Salem (Yorktown and Daleville) townships have grown over the past two decades, while the rest of Delaware County, including Center Township, has been losing population for decades,” he said. said Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economics Research at Ball State University. “There is nothing in this data, prior census data, school enrollment data, or Ball State enrollment data to suggest a significant change in these trends.”
But the gain of a year is better than the alternative.
“I’m excited to see this increase for 2021,” said Muncie Mayor Dan Ridenour. “I guess projects like downtown White River Lofts, which is filling up fast, issuing 36 Muncie single-family building permits in 2021 and newly renovated apartments at 424 Lofts, Labor Center Lofts and 613 W. Charles have also played into census estimates.
The mayor also mentioned other city efforts, including welcoming refugees from 2021 after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, as helping to spur local growth. The number of new Afghan residents has more than doubled to 91 so far this year, according to the city.
Hicks warned that the annual estimate is based on data from July 2021, and that COVID-19 deaths through the end of last year and the arrival of refugees, which he said the city should be proud, wouldn’t have played in the census. Numbers.
Specific growth areas
Delaware was one of 58 counties in Indiana, out of 92, estimated to have received a population gain in 2021.
In recent years, even as Delaware County has been losing population overall, gains have occurred in the southwestern portion of the county near Interstate 69 and the suburban population boom north of Indianapolis. .
“Population growth shows a strong causal influence of school quality as well as high-quality public services,” Hicks said. “The trend of migration and natural population growth in these areas shows signs of strengthening.”
Yorktown has worked hard and consistently on “quality of life” issues, Yorktown City Manager Pete Olson said, and its schools have a strong academic reputation.
He spoke on Tuesday as he watched workers put the finishing touches to The Oliver, a $6 million development of apartments, retail and offices along Smith Street across from a plaza, Civic Green, from New Yorktown City Hall.
The upscale development has 26 apartments and, Olson said, someone involved with the project told him that 24 of the apartments were already rented ahead of the planned move-in next month.
Tax increment funding from a $2 million bond issue is being used to help build The Oliver, which will provide views of Morrow’s Meadow and park development to the north. Rebar Development of Fishers oversees construction and leasing.
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Yorktown’s growing population has helped strengthen the community’s tax base, Olson said.
Census figures show there were 11,548 people living in the city as of the 2020 census, up from 9,405 in 2010.
The town just west of Muncie also has another much larger residential project underway. A $40 million residential development on the west side of town by developer Bison Properties of Noblesville is still to come, Olson said.
The developer continues to work on its funding close, Olson said. Yorktown City Council stepped forward with $5 million in development TIF bonds at a meeting in July 2020.
Olson said the bonds will be paid through Bison property taxes and the development and the city is not responsible for the money. Proceeds from the bond were to be used for project-related infrastructure, including roads, sewers and electricity.
Growth reflected in Yorktown Schools
Yorktown has been blessed for growth by its location.
“A lot of different things worked in our favor,” said Greg Hinshaw, superintendent of Yorktown Community Schools.
Housing in and around Yorktown, including newer housing stock, was readily available – at least until recently, he said. And the short drive to I-69 means downtown Indianapolis is just an hour away.
There are schools in Yorktown that, according to Public School Review, rank in the top 20% of public schools in Indiana. The school district is completing a massive construction project that, when complete, will create room for 3,000 enrolled students, up from 2,700 currently. In 2010, the total enrollment at Yorktown was 2,100.
A future enrollment study completed a few years ago predicted that enrollment in Yorktown would remain flat, which Hinshaw says doesn’t sound all that impressive, except that most other school districts were estimating declines.
In addition to the increase in the resident population of Yorktown Community Schools, changes at the state level that facilitated transfer to public school districts outside of a student’s residence brought even more students in Yorktown.
Hinshaw said the pace of a large influx of students from the Muncie Community Schools District has slowed, after financial and administrative problems at schools in the city led to the takeover of the Muncie District in 2018 by Ball State, as approved by the Indiana General Assembly. “It’s stabilized now,” he said.
Some grades in Yorktown are at a level that won’t allow transfers from outside the district, but Hinshaw said there should be room for new students coming from outside the district from grade level. kindergarten in the future.
Evidence of the dynamics of economic development
More than Delaware County, Hicks said the only two townships in east central Indiana with sustained population growth were Mount Pleasant (now all part of Yorktown) and Salem Townships – Yorktown and Daleville Schools , with Yorktown schools having both residential growth and transfer growth.
In years in which the county’s population grew, the population grew by an average of 898 people, and in declining years, an average of 716 fewer people lived in the county from year to year. other. The smallest “growth year” in recent records is the one just reported, he said.
“Over the past two decades, Delaware County has lost an average of 327 residents per year,” Hicks reported. “The biggest improvement came in 2010, when new residents numbered 2,479. This was largely due to increased student enrollment at the time. The biggest drop came in 2020. “
During the COVID-19 pandemic, movement from small communities to big cities has slowed, Hicks said. But it is not known if this change will continue. Rising housing prices in urban centers could indicate that such a COVID-inspired trend is coming to an end.
“Muncie City is highly unlikely to have experienced population growth in 2020,” Hicks said. “If so, Muncie Schools Improvement should be credited.”
Nonetheless, Ridenour said this first population increase measured by the U.S. census in 10 years, while not yet a trend, is proof that economic development efforts are starting to pay off and take hold. the extent.
He said his administration’s MakeMyMove effort to attract remote workers to Muncie is gaining momentum with more than 100 apps. Muncie also has several new housing options under construction.
Ridenour cited new employers, such as CANPACK, with more than 350 jobs, and Living Greens Farm with more than 125 jobs, as helping to strengthen the economic base of Muncie and Delaware County.
“We have real benefits with employment as a city and county. Housing is a concern.” Ridenour added.
Hicks warned that building new homes first will not lead to growth. “Muncie’s population loss is a demand issue, not a housing supply issue,” he said. “The addition of new housing does not affect demand.”
But Ridenour is focusing on the bright side and moving forward: “A growing U.S. Census Bureau population result, even if only for a year, should be good news for Muncie and Delaware County. .
David Penticuff is the local government reporter at The Star Press. Contact him at [email protected]