A future with fewer? Group explores impacts, consequences of 5,000 fewer residents in Wabash County

By 2050 Wabash County could have 5,000 fewer residents than it does today. This slow but steady decline began in 1980 when the county reached its high point for in-migration and population. That year, close to 400 people moved in and the population tipped over 36,500 residents for the first time.

Since then, between 50 and 100 households have left each year. Population isn’t the only measure for community vitality, but the consistent loss has had an impact and will continue to compound.

Communities in decline around Indiana and the broader Midwest have experienced a wide range of effects as a result of the trend. Some of these are expected, direct impacts like declining school enrollment, and lower tax revenue or increasing tax burden. Many are more subtle, like a softening retail and housing market, smaller workforce, and others. Now four decades into the trend, Wabash County can document the changes. A loss of 5,000 additional people would mean 1,800 fewer families and their children in the county’s three school districts, 2,000 fewer needed housing units, along with a greater tax burden on remaining residents and businesses.

“We tend to get fixated on the overall number when we talk about population as communities, but really, it’s about continued investment and sustainability,” said Adam Penrod, North Manchester Town Manager. “New people mean more than just our ranking in the state. They mean new families, students, homeowners, businesses, and amenities. Without this energy it makes everything just a little harder.”

Regionally, however, the population picture is more positive and points toward opportunity for the county. As Wabash decreased from 1980, the 11-county region centering on Fort Wayne grew by more than 150,000, or 25 percent. This growth outpaced the state (23 percent over the same period) and has continued through 2020 with bold plans to reach one million total residents in the area by 2030.

Imagine One 85 is a process to confront the population challenge head on. Through direct engagement with the community and stakeholders and in-depth analysis of the county's conditions and trends, the Steering Committee is working to develop a strong and visionary plan to help lead the communities of the county toward growth. A recent presentation by the group revealed that the county would need to grow by 85 new families or households each year in order to recapture it’s previous population high in 25 years. The “+85” initiative is emerging as a central recommendation of the work, with strategies focused squarely at the challenge.

On July 14 the Steering Committee will host an event to explore the challenges and potential of Wabash County. The Imagine One 85 Growth Summit will be a unique and interactive moment for community members to share and make a direct impact on their community. The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 PM on the Honeywell Plaza and include food and entertainment highlighting the best of Wabash County. Attendance is free and registration is available on the project website, 

Posted on 2021 Jun 01