Indiana ranked 17th nationwide in population growth last year, as measured by the number of one-way U-Haul rental trucks coming to the Hoosier State vs. the number leaving, the rental company announced Monday.
That's good news for employers trying to attract workers in a low-unemployment-rate environment and economic development professionals trying to attract more residents.
Arrivals to the state increased by 3 percent last year as compared to 2016 while departures increased by 2 percent, U-Haul officials said. Indiana ranked 39th for growth last year and 25th in 2015.
Of course, not everyone uses U-Haul when making a big move, but the data might more accurately reflect the migration of millennials than statistics generated by full-service moving companies, such as Allied Van Lines or North American Van Lines.
Increasing northeast Indiana's population of young, talented workers is a priority for local economic development officials.
John Sampson, president and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, called the report interesting.
“There's no question in my mind that we've got great momentum, great projects we're working on,” he said in a phone interview. “We're doing a lot of work to raise the visibility of the state and of the region.”
Sampson was among the architects of northeast Indiana's Road to One Million plan, which set a goal of increasing the region's population to 1 million by 2030.
Conventional wisdom among economic development experts is that regions boasting that many residents receive opportunities that aren't offered to less populated areas, Sampson said.
Local economic development officials agree that the only way northeast Indiana will hit the mark will be if more people are drawn to the region. The birth rate isn't robust enough to reach 1 million residents any time soon.
Concern isn't limited to northeast Indiana officials. Gov. Eric Holcomb visited Fort Wayne in November to outline his agenda for the legislative session now underway. Among his priorities is tackling Indiana's stagnant population growth. Statewide efforts date back to before Holcomb took office.
Former Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. created the Regional Cities Initiative in 2014. The program was designed to fast-track bold projects that improve quality of life, making regions more attractive to talented young workers. The General Assembly agreed in 2015 to fund three $42 million grants.
By using Regional Cities grants as the final dollars to push proposed projects over the funding finish line, state and local economic development officials say they have been able to spur $835.5 million in private-sector investment, $251 million in local investment and $35 million in other state funds for a total of more than $1.2 billion in projects.
It's too soon to know the full effects of the Regional Cities Initiative, but an initial study released Dec. 11 by Ball State University researchers show the investment is making a measurable, positive difference.
U-Haul's data show Indiana last year attracted more of the company's customers than surrounding states. Ohio ranked 34th on the list. Michigan was 47th, and Illinois was 49th.
Fort Wayne was the third most popular Indiana destination for the company's rental trucks, U-Haul data show. Elkhart and Noblesville were first and second.
Sampson agreed with the theory that many U-Haul customers might be at the beginning of their careers. But he doubts millennials account for all the demand.
When Sampson and his wife moved to Fort Wayne more than a decade ago from Indianapolis, they hired a couple of kids from church and made the move over three weekends using U-Haul trucks.
“There's no shame,” he said, “in frugality.”
At a glance
The following five states saw the highest net number of people moving in using one-way U-Haul truck rentals in 2017:
4. South Carolina