Ashtabula County is growing older, which parallels trends in Northeast Ohio, Ohio, and the nation. This aging trend is even more significant for Ashtabula County than many other places because of two factors: 1) slow long-term population decline in the county; and 2) the county’s weak ability to attract new people (especially younger people) to live in the county. Without population growth that replaces our aging population base, our economic growth potential is severely hampered. Actually the issue is a Catch 22; without population growth, economic and workforce growth are hampered, and without economic growth, population and economic growth are hampered.
According to the Scripps Gerontology Research Center at Miami University (Ohio), by 2030, seniors will make up 26 percent of the population in Ashtabula County, outnumbering children. Download the profile report here: Scripps Ashtabula-All-Charts_Report. We must change our population mix over time.
Ashtabula County needs new blood! That means pushing open our doors to new residents. We need to jumpstart population growth, especially we need to create an inflow of people who are younger, educated, and have in-demand skills and talents. This isn’t easy since every place wants this slice of the population. Better housing and schools are prerequisites to attracting new residents. And we need more high skilled jobs and new entrepreneurial opportunities.
Note: And yes, we must retain our existing young talent base and ensure it has the resources and opportunities in the future. I have been writing for some time on this priority. But to grow our population base, we must attract new residents!
How do we tackle this challenge? There are several pieces to this puzzle:
- Find out what the younger, educated, and high skilled and talented population group want in terms of lifestyle and career opportunities. As a semi-rural area, where do we stand the best chances of competing for these people? Many want to live in urban areas. Our chances are weaker with this part of the group. Our chances are better with the part of the group that wants to live in small towns, own land, farm at least part-time, and enjoy outdoor recreation. Affordability is an advantage for us as well. Step 1 is finding out what they want.
- We need to build a strategy to market the county to this population group. Initially we sell what we have, while working to strengthen our asset base. Northeast Ohio may seem like the most likely place to sell ourselves, but we need to look broader. Step 2 is a focused marketing strategy.
- Strengthen our assets to attract and retain this demographic. This is Step 3. Quality housing is essential. Packaging our school assets is essential. Quality of life and high quality jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities are top priorities.
- Commit ourselves to a full court press to lure more residents to the county. This must be a 10-year or more commitment. Now is the time to start.