Oil boom hasn’t yet reversed Eastern Ohio population slide

WHEELING – In what has become a trend, every Ohio Valley county saw a loss in population over the past year, according to data released Thursday.

In Eastern Ohio, Jefferson County saw the largest decline in percentage of its population, with 396 people leaving in the past year. The Census Bureau reported that the county’s estimated population in 2013 was 67,967, which represented a 2.5 percent decline from the 2010 number of 69,709.

In Carroll County, meanwhile, the numbers show a loss of 299 people in the past year. That leaves that county with an estimated population of 28,275, a 1.9 percent decline from the 2010 figure of 28,836.

Harrison County’s estimated population fell by 83 residents in the past year, with estimates showing 15,622 people lived there in 2013, a decline of 1.5 percent from the 2010 figure of 15,864.

Belmont County recorded a drop of 55 residents in the 2013 estimate, leaving it with 69,571 residents, a decline of 1.2 percent from the 2010 figure of 70,400, while Columbiana County showed a decline of of 565 residents, leaving it with a population of 105,893, a decline of 1.8 percent from the 2010 number of 107,841.

Jefferson County Commissioner Thomas Graham said he hopes economic development in the near future will stabilize the county’s population and allow it to grow.

He said the oil and gas industry is just starting in the county.

“We hope the creation of the county port authority, which is in discussions with potential businesses coming to Jefferson County, coupled with the oil and gas industry, will move the population numbers in the right direction,” Graham said.

While the news was not good for the counties in our region, things looked brighter across the state, as Ohio’s population increased by 34,000 people to 11,570, 808 since 2010.

West Virginia’s population, meanwhile, showed a slight increase in population. The Mountain State now has 1,854,304 residents, according to the 2013 estimate, up from the 1,852,999 residents who were recorded in 2010.

Hancock County’s 2013 estimated population of 30,291 represented a decline a 1.3 percent from the 30,676 residents who were recorded in the 2010 Census. Brooke County, was listed with a 2013 estimated population of 23,737, a decline of 1.4 percent from the 24,969 residents who were recorded in 2010.

The population of Ohio County dropped to an estimated 43,727 in 2013 from 44,443 in 2010, a loss of 1.6 percent.

Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton said every year new data suggests the county continues to see a drop in population – and every year he has a hard time determining the cause.

“I find it hard to come up with a reason as to why that happens,” he said of the 1.6 percent drop since 2010. “We have a low cost of living here, low utility costs, great public and private schools, hospitals, recreation … we have a lot of good things happening here.”

Wharton said jobs and “economic opportunities” are the main reason people continue to leave – a problem not unique to Ohio County.

“It’s not like they’re leaving Ohio County to go to Belmont County,” he said. “They move because they can’t find a good job or one they’re trained to do. It’s a trend that we’re all working very hard to reverse.”

(Staff writer Mark Law contributed to this report.)