The U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday that Summit County was one of 45 Ohio counties that gained population between 2016 and 2017.
The bureau estimated the county gained 834 people, a 0.15 percent increase, making its population 541,228. However, the total figure is down from 2010’s official census count of 541,781.
The bureau said growth came mainly from international migration from abroad (1,101 people) and from births that outpaced deaths (a gain of 210 people).
However, the increase was tempered by losses of people moving to other places in the U.S. (net loss of 452) and other uncategorized factors.
"Summit County continues to be a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family," said Greta Johnson, the assistant chief of staff in County Executive Ilene Shapiro’s office.
"The increase in population is a testament to our residents, who are our best advocates. They like living here, want to stay here and are telling others about the opportunities available in our community. It is exciting to see Summit County grow."
Meanwhile, the census estimates also show Portage County was one of the counties that gained population in 2017, rising less than one-tenth of one percent to 162,277. That reversed a slight loss between 2015 and 2016.
Though the census estimated a net 425 residents moved out in 2017 and six more people died than were born, an influx of 546 people from abroad meant growth of 115 people.
"I’m glad to hear that it’s a reverse in the trend," said Portage County Commissioner Mike Kerrigan, noting the county has not done any active promotion of the area as a place to move.
"As long as I’ve been involved with local government, we’ve always supported developers coming in. We help out movers and builders. But we’re not doing anything out of the ordinary."
Kerrigan also added that with two places of higher education — Kent State University and Hiram College — that actively seek international students, the county’s population is constantly in flux.
Most students are not recorded on the census figures as being permanent residents of the county.
The new census estimates also say the growing Columbus metro area now has more people than the Cleveland metro area.
Comparing the cities within their borders, Columbus has long been the bigger city. And last year, the Census Bureau said Franklin County surpassed Cuyahoga County to become the most populated county in Ohio.
The Columbus metro area, which includes 10 counties within commuting distance of the city, has surpassed that of Cleveland by about 20,000 people. The score: Columbus, 2,078,725 over Cleveland, 2,058,844.
The Columbus metro area gained population at a 1.6 percent rate from 2016 to 2017, adding a total of 31,748 people. Cleveland’s metro area decreased by about half a percentage point, or 1,221 people.
Cincinnati’s metro area, which stretches into northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana, still has about 100,000 more people.
Given current trends, the Columbus metro area would catch Cincinnati’s metro area by 2024, said economist Bill LaFayette, the founder of Columbus-based Regionomics. He has tracked the growth rates for years.
The 2017 numbers also do nothing to dissuade Aaron Schill, director of data and mapping at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, from projections that Central Ohio will add 500,000 to 1 million people between 2010 and 2050.
"From everything we’ve seen we are definitely on track to be in that range," he said.
Central Ohio is home to the five fastest-growing counties in the state. Franklin County added the most population in raw numbers. Union County had the highest growth rate, at 2.3 percent, with continued growth along Route 33 between Dublin and Marysville.
Delaware County continued the rapid growth it has enjoyed for years, adding 1.9 percent.
In a breakdown of the reasons for population growth, the census estimated Franklin County gained 5,861 people in 2017 from "domestic migration," which means people moved to Franklin County from another place in the United States.
Without knowing exactly where people moved from, it’s hard to say why the domestic migration number jumped so much, said Lynnette Cook, executive director of Thoughtwell, a nonprofit research firm in Columbus that uses data to guide public policy decisions.
The Census Bureau makes its domestic migration estimates based on building permits for housing, LaFayette said, so a recent boom in apartment complexes that cater to young workers could account for that jump.
Told that just more than half of Ohio counties added some population, an improvement from recent years, Cook identified the pattern: "It’s the rural counties that are losing population."
She said that means that while most suburbs and some urban areas enjoy growth, policies need to help the whole state prosper.
"From a health and human services perspective, it’s going to make it harder in those rural communities to make sure folks have access to services and health care and jobs," she said. "What are the implications and what do we have to do to make some decisions to make sure no Ohioans get left behind?"
LaFayette sees some hope in the 2017 estimates. For years, he said, Central Ohio has carried the state’s growth. Last year, for example, Franklin County’s population growth number alone was nearly identical to the state’s. But this year’s numbers show a broadening growth that can’t be attributed to just one region.
It’s one year of data, but it is encouraging, Schill said. In the long run, Central Ohio’s growth and prosperity will rise and fall with the rest of the state.
"If it turns into a long-term trend," he said, "it’s good for the state of Ohio and central Ohio."