GREENFIELD — Hancock County’s population growth is on the decline, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, and local business leaders and town planners said they are surprised by the trend.
While the growth rate is higher than the state average, Hancock now ranks 15th among fastest-growing counties in the state — down from its third-place ranking when the official 2000-10 census figures were released.
The new numbers are based on 2014 population estimates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, which uses births, deaths, administrative records and survey data to estimate how many people resided in each county last year.
The data show that Hancock County grew by 2.8 percent to 71,978 residents, which is 1,976 more people than in 2010.
But the growth rate is much slower than other central Indiana counties: Hamilton has the highest growth rate in the state, at 10.2 percent during the past four years. Boone and Hendricks counties are not far behind at 9.3 and 7.3 percent, respectively. Johnson and Marion counties also are growing faster than Hancock, while Morgan and Shelby counties are growing at a slower rate. Madison, Henry and Rush counties are losing residents, according to the census.
Skip Kuker, director of the Hancock Economic Development Council, was baffled by the change.
“It sounds strange that it would go from third to 15th,” Kuker said.
Still, Kuker said even the western side of Marion County is growing faster than the eastern side, and that translates to geographic regions in the doughnut counties.
Hamilton, Boone, Hendricks and Johnson counties have always been high performers in attracting population but not necessarily in attracting jobs or workforce, Kuker said.
“I think we continue to be an attractive area people should want to live,” he added.
Perhaps Hancock doesn’t have as many quality-of-life factors to attract young families, suggested Mike Dale, director of the Hancock County Planning Department.
“I’d guess most of the growth (in nearby counties) is probably in the 20- to 30-year-old age group, and that group of people is probably looking for a place that has more amenities,” Dale said.
“Things to do, places to go, shopping, trails, special events. And Hancock County unfortunately is behind these other counties in terms of offering these types of amenities.”
Fast-rising, affordable housing additions from 2000-10 probably accounted for the quick growth of that decade, Dale said. The housing trend slowed toward the end of the decade but is making a recovery. So far in 2015, Dale said, the county department issued 31 building permits, almost three times those that were issued at this time last year. Most of those permits were in Vernon and Sugar Creek townships.
McCordsville also continues to grow, said Tonya Galbraith, town manager. There have been 37 residential building permits issued in the first quarter of 2015, she said, up by four compared to this time last year.
McCordsville’s population estimate in the 2000-10 census was 4,797, and Galbraith estimates the town is closer to 6,000 now.
“I think our location plays a big role in it,” Galbraith said. “We’re close to Indianapolis, we’re close to Fishers, we’re close to Greenfield. It’s just easy to get from here to there; plus, it’s beautiful.”
Greenfield also is probably growing, said Joanie Fitzwater, city planner. While the population was 20,602 in 2010, Fitzwater expects it to grow to 24,000 by 2020.
Still, comparing countywide numbers from the last decade to today can be tricky.
“That decade, subdivisions were popping up like weeds, so if you had made projections from that boom building time, then yeah, it’s much different now,” Fitzwater said.
Hamilton, Boone, Hendricks and Johnson counties have been more aggressive in pursuing housing additions, Fitzwater added.
“Hancock County has been of the mind that, I think everyone out here wants to stay agricultural, except in the city of Greenfield, which is the urban core, and McCordsville and Cumberland are suburban.”
Fitzwater said people are attracted to communities for different reasons, and what some might consider quality-of-life amenities in faster-growing communities, others might not want in Hancock County.
“People that live here love the rural, small-town atmosphere, and people that live in Carmel love the Palladium,” she said.
“Greenfield’s quality of life just has a different tone to it. When we think about how we want to position the city to grow in the future, we have to be really mindful of that.”
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released 2014 population estimates for counties. While in 2010 Hancock County was the third-fastest-growing in the state, it’s now ranked at 15. Here’s a look at the numbers:
Estimated 2014 population of Hancock County, up 2.8 percent from the 2010 official census at 70,002.
Statewide population growth, at roughly 6.6 million, up from 6.5 million in 2010
Growth rate for the fastest-growing county: Hamilton. Boone and Hendricks ranked No. 2 and 3 for growth over the last four years.
Ranking of Hancock County’s growth among the seven “doughnut counties” surrounding Marion County. Hancock is behind Hamilton, Boone, Hendricks and Johnson counties but is growing faster than Shelby and Morgan counties. Hancock is also ahead of neighboring counties of Madison, Henry and Rush, all of which are projected to have lost population over the past four years.
Number of counties across the state that are projected to be growing; 54 counties are shrinking in size.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau