MOUNT VERNON — While central Ohio and its greater Columbus area are generally expected to show robust increases in population when the 2020 US Census is released next year, two representatives from MORPC — the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission — said Knox County will likely show only a slight population increase from 2010.
Knox County had a 2010 US Census official count of 60,921 people. MORPC, which does its own yearly population counts during the summer within its 15-county area, projects a 2020 population for Knox County of 62,514 — an increase of 1,593 people, or 2.6 percent, over a decade.
Meanwhile, the entire area MORPC represents — a 15-county region of central Ohio including Knox as well as Franklin, Delaware, Union, Morrow, Licking, Pickaway, Fairfield and eight other counties — is estimated to add another 500,000 to 1 million residents to its current population of 2.4 million by 2050, according to MORPC estimates. Counties such as Delaware and Union, which border on Franklin — the fastest-growing county by far, and home to the state’s largest city, Columbus — are experiencing substantial growth.
MORPC representatives William Murdock, executive director, and Eileen Leuby, member services officer, discussed the issue of population projections Tuesday with Knox County Commissioners along with other topics including central Ohio transportation needs. The reasons for a small population uptick in Knox County center on issues including lack of large-scale housing projects, and lack of large-scale business expansion — such as has occurred recently in neighboring Morrow County, officials said. There, a Dollar Tree-Family Dollar Warehouse Distribution Center is now, at 387 workers, close to full employment of 400. It has 1.2 million feet of space, Commissioner Thom Collier noted. A figure for how many of those workers are from Knox County was not available as of press time.
As a basis of comparison, one of the city of Mount Vernon’s largest former employers, Siemens, laid off more than 130 employees when it shuttered its gas turbine production facility in 2018. The property remains vacant while the Knox County Land Bank continues to seek tenants.
Housing in Knox County, including apartment complexes and those offering affordable housing, also remains an issue.
“We don’t have any 300-to-500 unit building developments,” Collier said. “Our housing stock is suffering because of that.”
Commissioner Teresa Bemiller agreed, offering, “We do know housing’s an issue that needs to be addressed in the future.”
The opposite problem occurs in some MORPC counties closer to Columbus, where resistance to housing developers can turn away large projects, Murdock said. And while Collier said Knox County’s lack of any building codes is lax enough that builders can take advantage of it, Murdock said neighboring counties have the opposite problem — detailed code regulations that can make even the addition of a deck to one’s home a lengthy approval process.
Murdock said MORPC provides technical assistance to the US Census Bureau. While the Census Bureau uses a “top-down” approach to do Census canvassing and determine population, MORPC uses data such as building permits, workforce population figures, and birth and date deaths to determine population patterns and make estimates. In most of these areas, Knox County has been flat or even shown a small decline in recent years, Murdock added, with one area of population growth being seniors who are 65 years of age or older.
Bemiller offered that the projections for Knox County’s future population extending out 30-plus years — to 2050 — is not all negative in scope. She said MORPC has informed her and others that Knox County would likely experience a population increase of around 17,000 more residents by 2050. Although not a large increase, slow growth over time provides opportunities for more careful planning of services and infrastructure.
Murdock and commissioners also discussed MORPC’s competitive advantage program where grants are sought for counties and municipalities which are MORPC members in order to fund infrastructure priorities. MORPC is seeking grant funding to fund a sewer project for Knox Lake residents, which would attempt to involve the lowest debt service possible to pay off the project, he said. The system could potentially connect with the village of Fredericktown’s sewer system, and MORPC plans to bring in consultants in November for a day-long session on the topic.
Knox County pays $22,000 per year to be a member of MORPC and CORPO, the Central Ohio Rural Planning Organization.
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