It’s a situation in which the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
The U.S. Census Bureau released last week new population estimates for last year. West-central Wisconsin had four of the state’s 10 fastest-growing counties — Dunn was seventh, Eau Claire ninth and Chippewa was just outside the leading group.
From 2010 to 2018, the population grew 5.7 percent in Eau Claire County, 2.9 percent in Dunn and 2.6 percent in Chippewa. All three figures were higher than the state rate of 2.2 percent. Eau Claire, Dunn and Chippewa counties added a combined 8,550 residents during that time frame, a growth rate of nearly 4.2 percent.
“When we have population growth,” said Rod Eslinger, Eau Claire County’s planning and development director, in a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Eric Lindquist, “we know that means we have a healthy economy.”
Eslinger added that the Eau Claire area “gives people a chance to live and work in a relatively low-crime area while still benefiting from a low unemployment rate and enjoying the redevelopment of downtown and the cultural scene that’s happening here.”
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For areas such as the Chippewa Valley, said Scott Hodek, regional labor market economist with the state Department of Workforce Development, population and economic growth tend to be linked.
“The biggest piece of that right now is the associated increase in the available labor force — given the demographic shift with the retirement of the baby boomers, slow labor force growth has tended to act as a constraint on economic growth,” he said. “More workers available to our area businesses gives them the ability to capture more market share versus out-of-the-area competitors, leading to expansions.”
The easing of workforce restraints also helps attract new businesses, Hodek said, and startups in the growth stage are more likely to find workers.
“Population growth also leads to more choices for area consumers, as more businesses open to serve demand, and a higher overall tax base for area municipalities,” he said.
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Population growth can exacerbate problems in areas that already are struggling and put a strain on any community’s resources.
“Infrastructure, educational institutions, assistance programs and public transit — to name a few examples — usually need to grow/upgrade to handle increased need,” Hodek said.
Housing for low- to middle-income residents already was an issue being worked on locally and across the U.S.
“With a growing population, it’s likely Chippewa Valley communities would need to direct more resources to housing and neighborhood development,” Hodek said.
With slow labor force growth nationally, and some areas declining in population, Hodek said it’s important to keep the momentum going in the region.
“The work ... done to enhance overall quality of life and create vibrant, attractive communities has really paid off,” he said. “Speaking from personal experience, the area has seen fantastic improvement in the time I’ve lived here, and I’ve been proud to be part of the groundswell of highly engaged community members working towards that goal.
“This is an attractive place to live.”
Now we have the data to prove it.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor