“All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

By: John Sampson on April 6th, 2017

Understanding Population Loss is Critical to Overcome Challenges

Not to bore you with data, but the journey on the Road to One Million requires a broad and deep understanding of the challenge before us.

As a reminder, let’s start with what we know, or project to know, about our current population trajectory. In my last Perspective, “Talk is Cheap” we recorded these projections.

  • The total workforce is expected to decline by more than 8,000 due to retirements in the next decade.
  • On average, we are losing 1,000 in domestic out-migration (native-born residents) annually in the 18-to-40-year-old demographic.
  • More than 20 percent of the current workforce in Northeast Indiana is at or near retirement age. Projected job growth and retirements will require more than 100,000 jobs to fill in the next decade!
  • From 2010-2015, more than 47,000 individuals chose to leave our state. That’s domestic out migration. 
  • The direct economic impact of this out migration is $1.63 billion in adjusted gross income and a loss of $114 million in annual income and sales tax revenue to the state.

The reality of these facts and projections is frightening, but not because it is expected to occur or even on the horizon. This is our burning platform. 

While I don’t hear many people discussing this on the street, this drastic economic drain to our state and employers is in play right now. Despite our outstanding success to attract and grow jobs for existing and new companies, the reality is that our economic future in the 20-to-40-year-old demographic is not just leaking from our borders; it is freely flowing through a dramatic gash.  But I wonder, are we even paying attention?

So how are population trends calculated? It’s a simple formula to understand.

  1. Natural births minus deaths
  2. Net domestic migration
  3. International migration

With help from the Community Research Institute (CRI) at IPFW and Stats Indiana we have access to 2016 data revealing precisely how we are doing here in Northeast Indiana in each component of our population trend.

The bottom line is of no surprise but it does help us focus on what we must do and why. 

Here are Northeast Indiana’s results for 2016 compared to the previous year:

  • Natural — every county except one in Northeast Indiana wins in births over deaths. For the eleven counties, we added 3,928 through births over deaths.
  • Net domestic migration — every county loses.  In 2016, 1,930 individuals chose to leave the region for other opportunities.
  • International migration — every county, yes, every county, wins in attracting and employing international immigrants.  All totaled, we are on the plus side by 1,016 immigrants.

There you have it; the challenge before is more births, stem the tide of outflow of our native-born residents and make sure we are welcoming international immigrants to the shores of liberty and economic opportunity right here in Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana.

This is a serious challenge that we need to confront with our full commitment and energy. This is also a real opportunity to distinguish ourselves from our neighboring regions in the Midwest because we are NOT alone in this battle against population stagnation.  The data for Indiana is similar.  The state grew by more than 20,000 last year. 

Here are the state’s results for 2016 compared to the previous year:

  • Natural — 22,385
  • Net domestic migration — 12,135
  • International migration — 11,052

This population trend is endemic to the Midwest as reported by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

A key finding is that immigrants are stemming losses in population in the Midwest metros. In Fort Wayne alone, immigrant populations grew by 66 percent from 2000 -2015, accounting for 24 percent of the population growth of the city during that same period.

Don’t overlook that the battle for growth in population and workforce is not unlike our success in personal per capita income (PPCI). We must aim higher to grow faster than the state, Midwest and the nation overall. Very few believed that we had the will or ability to grow PPCI.

Let’s start with a very healthy and honest dose of our reality compared to others. Currently, our average year-to-year rate has been only 0.7 percent annualized growth. That rate is NOT going to cut it. That is the rate of growth has our current workforce declining by 8,000 over the next decade due to retirements. The objective is to be up above 1.5 percent annually.

So, how do we get there? 

  • Reduce the outflow of our native-born residents though a massive increase in paid internships and work-based learning experiences. 
    • Think about the power of strong connections between employers, students and graduates as they make their decisions about staying here or starting their careers here.  If we can reduce the outflow by 30 percent, the rate of growth goes way up and we increase the opportunity for more natural births. I am just saying…
  • Maintain a robust and easy to navigate portal to all economic opportunities or jobs in our region. 
    • Individuals move and relocate with lots of varied motivations.  Usually, at some point, they grow roots in a good job. There are literally thousands of unfilled “opportunities” in our region today.
  • Reinforce a deep reputation of being open and welcoming to immigrants and others. 
    • To be clear, this is NOT a political statement at the national level. We are certainly interested in the debate over legal immigration. More importantly, what local collaboration can position the region as a destination for immigrants to join our community and benefit from our economic and quality of life assets?

As much as I would like to wish away this nagging threat in population stagnation, we must seriously confront the challenge and take a deep dive into the makeup of population growth to confront our lurking enemy. 

As we launch strategies to attract and retain a talented workforce, we all have the responsibility to become experts in the framework of population growth. 

As the legendary Dragnet detective was fond of saying, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

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