A decade ago, we learned from newly released census data that Fort Wayne and its metropolitan area grew while rural areas stagnated.
Republican lawmakers, eager to maintain their Statehouse majority, set quickly to work redrawing Indiana's electoral lines while Democrats worried about gerrymandering.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Updated decennial population data for 2020 was unveiled this month, and the situation resembles the release in early 2011 of census figures from the year before.
Allen County and Fort Wayne experienced strong growth from 2010 to last year, while populations grew at a slower clip in more rural areas in northeast Indiana – or not at all. GOP legislators again are moving ahead with plans to draw new maps as Democrats and advocates for transparency push for more public hearings and a fair redistricting process.
Amid that earned cynicism, though, are reasons for optimism.
Eight of 11 counties in northeast Indiana saw populations increase in the past decade. Allen County's 8.5% growth rate – the population now is 385,410 – is twice the national average. Fort Wayne's population grew by 4% to 263,886.
That's as census officials reported populations in more than half of U.S. counties dropped from 2010 to 2020. Some areas in the Midwest also lost residents.
“Looking at the individual counties, you start to see different patterns with some gaining and some losing, but as a collective, it bodes well for the Fort Wayne metro and all of northeast Indiana,” Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne's Community Research Institute, said after numbers were released.
The data breeds confidence in part because it shows the region is a desirable place to live.
“You're probably living here because of family or a job,” Blakeman said in an interview last week.
“Allen County has a two-fold population advantage,” she said. “One, it is an urban center. We're seeing the larger urban centers gaining population. There is a draw to metropolitan areas.
“Also, cities tend to have larger racial and ethnic populations. These tend to be younger and have higher birth rates.”
Most of the counties in the 11-county northeast Indiana region grew, and LaGrange saw 8.9% growth. Adams County (35,809) ranked third – behind LaGrange and Allen – with a 4.1% increase.
Noble, Steuben and Whitley counties saw populations fall.
Fort Wayne saw explosive growth – 23% – from 2000 to 2010, and researchers attributed that to expanding the city's borders through annexations. The latest census figures show the effect of annexation – and suburban growth – on Huntertown, which saw its population increase by 90%. Blakeman said the most recent local rate is “a healthy percentage,” and noted growth can be positive.
A burgeoning population can also lead to challenges such as finding jobs for everyone who wants or needs to live here and constructing infrastructure such as roads and water and sewer services.
Ryan Twiss, vice president of talent initiatives for Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, credited investments in businesses and public improvements with some of the growth. Those are key to continuing to see population increases, even if the partnership's goal of 1 million residents by 2030 isn't met.
“As northeast Indiana invests in itself, it's already paying off,” Twiss said. “... We've always known that they're big, audacious goals.”
It's important and necessary to carefully plan for future growth. That includes municipalities considering infrastructure upgrades and residents making their voices heard as lawmakers draw new electoral boundaries.
The new census figures are timely reminders to do both.
Around the area
Census data shows the populations of many northeast Indiana cities grew from 2010 to 2020, though some lost residents.
Huntertown (above): 9,141 (up 90%)
Columbia City: 9,892 (up 13%)
Auburn: 13,412 (up 5.3%)
New Haven: 15,583 (up 5.3%)
Bluffton: 10,308 (up 4.1%)
Huntington: 17,022 (down 2%)
Wabash: 10,440 (down 2%)