Ignore the upbeat takes coming out of northeast Indiana regional development folks — the reality is rural northeast Indiana’s population is fading.

Perhaps the region isn’t fading as fast as other rural areas of the state, but the 2020 Census results are nothing to celebrate.

DeKalb County experienced population growth of 2.5% over the past 10 years. Steuben County had basically none at just 0.7% growth. And Noble County joined most of the rest of rural Indiana with negative growth, losing 0.2% of its population.

LaGrange County grew by 8.9%, but without Amish babies we suspect the remainder isn’t terribly different from its neighbors.

What’s worse is that those low growth rates were also decreases from 2000-2010.

In the previous decade, DeKalb County had 4.8% growth, Steuben County 2.9% and Noble County 2.7%.

LaGrange County is up a bit this decade from 6.4% the 10 years before, but still a far cry from the 15%-plus it grew in each of the four decades from 1960-2000.

Northeast Indiana’s Road to One Million plan was ludicrously optimistic in its hope that the region could approach 1 million residents by 2030. To hit that goal, the region would need to see about 25% growth over the next decade.

Barring a 1840s-style gold rush, that’s simply not going to happen. At current rates, it would take another five decades to get there and, considering population is waning in most places not named Fort Wayne, even keeping up current growth patterns is going to be a challenge.

The local economy can’t grow if there aren’t people to support it and people aren’t going to migrate unless there is a robust economy.

Regional employers are already struggling to find workers and that problem isn’t going to suddenly get better as the rural population ages more rapidly out of the workforce with fewer new young workers to replace them.

Northeast Indiana leaders and economic development need to be more aggressively focused on strategies to increase the population.

And no, quality of life projects aren’t going to be enough. Trails and murals and food truck events aren’t going to solve this problem on their own, especially when many urban and suburban areas are doing the exact same things, too, often in bigger scale.

Housing is a must. Wages have to go up to better compete with urban areas. The region has to diversify more from agriculture and auto/RV industry manufacturing.

This can’t wait and local leaders can’t be passive. After two generations of decline, northeast Indiana can’t sustain another generation of fading population growth.

Regional, county, city and town officials need to be more active and more aggressive to force a change in this downward trend.
© 2022 KPCNews, Kendallville, IN.