Dec. 4—Of the four sizable counties at the core of the Dayton region, Warren County has grown the fastest by far in the past two decades in both population and residential building starts/permits, according to data from the U.S. Census and the Ohio Department of Development.
Warren County's population grew 53% between 2000 and 2020, according to data from the U.S. Census, far exceeding Greene County (13.6% increase) and Miami County (just over 10%) while Montgomery County showed a nearly 3.9% population decrease.
Cities and townships that saw huge population increases across the region between 2000 and 2020 include Beavercreek Twp. (172%), Monroe (160.1%) and Clearcreek Twp. (110%). Others growing strongly were Springboro (54%), Turtlecreek Twp. (34.5%), Washington Twp. (24.5%), Union (23%), Lebanon (22.8%), Beavercreek (22.5%) and Franklin Twp. (22.2%).
Warren County saw similar increases and led the Dayton region in single-family and multi-family residential home starts.
According to the state, Warren County constructed 2,906 single- and multi-family residential units with a valuation of nearly $307.4 million in the 2000 Census. In the 2020 Census, there were 1,640 residential units constructed in Warren County with a valuation of more than $415.4 million.
Why does population change?
Dr. Robert Graham, senior research scholar and associate director of Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University, studies population changes.
Graham said county populations can grow or decline through natural changes in births and deaths and migration. The proportion of younger people in the population and economic factors, including quality of life, affect those.
"The percentage of younger people in the county has an influence on the number of children born," Graham said. "Other things being equal, a county with a higher proportion of people in the childbearing ages will tend to grow faster than a county with a smaller proportion. Younger people are also more likely to migrate for education, jobs, or relationships."
Graham said land for building and expansion is often less available and more expensive in larger urban areas, which can affect where population grows.
He said better work opportunities tend to attract people. Graham said that there are more job opportunities in the Warren County due to its location between both Dayton and Cincinnati. In addition, because of COVID-19, many people moved from cities to more rural areas, he said.
"In turn, businesses that offer goods and services tend to follow the people. People also tend to want to live in newer neighborhoods with more space and amenities," Graham said. "When an area grows, families need schools to teach their children, so newer facilities are often needed. Newer schools can also be attractive to families."
Another economic influence on population growth is transportation infrastructure.
"In the southwestern Ohio region, we have two major highways and a web of other roads that allow people and goods to get where they need to go relatively efficiently," Graham said. "Counties that have better transportation options will tend to grow faster than those that don't have good options."
Lance Oakes of Oakes Tree Development and a broker with Design Homes in Dayton said Warren County's growth can be attributed to availability of land and sanitary sewer access.
He said pricing and rising interest rates might slow growth in Warren County, noting the job growth in Montgomery and Greene counties.
"In the last 10 to 20 years, we've seen monster growth in Warren County, but there could be a slowdown," Oakes said. "But as home prices and interest rates go up, pay is not keeping up and could keep someone from affording a mortgage."
Matthew Schnipke, Warren County's economic development director, said local officials have been trying to be strategic with growing businesses and residences by not giving developers "carte blanche" over projects.
He attributed Warren County's growth, which has been the second-fastest of Ohio's counties, to factors including well-governed communities, mangeable taxes, businesses thriving and growing, quality of life, locations where people feel they can put down roots and raise families and the overlap of the Dayton/Cincinnati metro areas.
"I expect the population to grow more over the next 10 years as more businesses are started and more jobs are created," Schnipke said. "We also have land, which is an advantage."
With the recent announcements of large construction projects for Honda and Intel in central and southwestern Ohio, Schnipke said Warren County is hoping to acquire businesses that would be suppliers for both projects. He said the county also will be focusing on its workforce development system to have people trained for those jobs.
Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka agreed that Lebanon has good services, available property ready for development, low crime rates and quality schools.
"Lebanon has a sense of place," Brunka said. "It's a small town community that appeals to people."
Lebanon has grown steadily from 17,013 in 2000 to 20,847 in 2020, a nearly 22.5% increase. Brunka said he expects Lebanon's residential and business growth will continue in the coming years.
He said the city has 10 subdivisions in in the planning phase or with active construction underway. In addition, there are businesses expanding or are looking build in Lebanon, Brunka said.
"Over the last three years, Lebanon has averaged 240 new building permits," he said. "We're averaging $60 million a year in new commercial and business. That's what creates jobs as we are seeing as much as commercial/business/office development as we are seeing in residential. We expect that to pick up over the next 10 years."
No longer a country town
When Betty Bray married John Bray, they moved to a house in 1961 that he bought the year before on South Main Street (Ohio 741) in Springboro. They were married for 55 1/2 years until his 2017 death.
"It was really a country town," she said. "There was a two-lane highway, Ohio 73, (Central Avenue), another two-lane highway, Ohio 741 and there were farms all along the roads."
Bray said when she first came to Springboro, she was told you had to live there for 50 years before people were accepted as city residents. She also remembers when Springboro only had one public works employee.
At the crossroads of the two state highways, there was an IGA grocery, a hardware store, a drug store, a beauty shop, a drug store, and an arts-and-crafts store, Bray said. Along Main Street, there were a few small businesses such as a restaurant, auto shop and a post office.
"When I moved here, there was hardly any traffic on Main Street," she said.
Over the years, new subdivisions and a new shopping center, Midway Plaza near the interchange of the fairly new Interstate 75 and Ohio 73, arrived. She has seen businesses and a lot of people come and go over the years.
Bray said Springboro began to grow after Bill Covell was appointed city manager in 1982.
"He figured out ways on how to develop land," she said.
One of Covell's major accomplishments was the development of the publicly owned Heatherwoode Golf Club. He left the city in 1993 and died in 2012.
Bray said even with all the growth over the past 60 years, she believes "we're growing at the right speed."
'Location, location, location'
Three Montgomery County communities cited close proximity to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and two interstate highways as key factors in their population growth.
"Location, location, location," said Bryan Chodkowski, Huber Heights' acting city manager. "We're just outside the base's west side and it's a really easy commute for people working there. We've seen this by the number of residents and in our income tax receipts. We're in a great location."
Chodkowski said the city has invested millions of dollars toward improving quality of life. He said the city has invested in the parks and recreation infrastructure, an aquatics center and Rose Music Center at The Heights. Huber Heights is also close to the Great Miami River Bike Trail and water sports and boating on the Great Miami and Mad rivers.
"Housing has been a hot item for the city, and we've approved or already have in the queue more than 1,000 residential units — projects that have been approved and is at some phase of development," Chodkowski said. "This is without a planned annexation of more than 300 acres from Miami County, which has a potential of 1,200 more residential units."
He also said the city has seen an uptick of interest in commercial, retail and restaurant development.
"We expect to see more of the same in the future, even if the economy slows down," Chodkowski said.
In Beavercreek Twp., proximity to Interstate 675, U.S. 35, Wright-Patterson and other industries near the base help attract new residents, according to Max McConnell, associate economic development and zoning administrator.
McConnell said that "the township recognizes what's attractive, and other market forces put us on the map."
It also benefits from the quality of the Beavercreek City School District and the Mall at Fairfield Commons, with much undeveloped land in the township.
Beavercreek City Manager Pete Landrum said location was also key in the city's growth, near the same amenities.
"We're a relatively new city that was founded in 1980," Landrum said. "When I-675 came in, we saw an explosion of growth because Wright-Patterson's employment grew along with defense contractors locating near the base, and Wright State's growth."
He said the city has no income tax and relies on property taxes.
"People want to be here because it's a close-knit community," Landrum said. "It's a safe community. They love our parks, trails and friendliness.
"Growth is good. If you're not a growing city, people leave."
Some communities trying to understand population declines.
Montgomery County lost 3.89% of its population from 2000-20 but gained 0.4% from 2010 and 2020. The 2020 population of Montgomery County was 537,309.
"Our role is to provide an environment — amenities, services, jobs, housing — for families to want to move into Montgomery County. We are doing these things," said Keith Lavoie, Montgomery County assistant communications director.
The city of Dayton has seen a declining population for the past few decades. Tony Kroeger, Dayton's planning and land use division manager, said there was outward growth from Dayton starting in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960, the population was 262,000, he said.
According to the 2020 Census, Dayton has a population of 138,310, about half of its 1960 population.
Kroeger said there were major forces which affected the population then such as suburban growth, changes in manufacturing and age of housing.
"We're looking forward. This was a party in the making for the past seven decades," he said. "The bottom hasn't fallen out. Stabilization and future growth are coming to Dayton. It's realistic to see growth in 2030."
Kroeger added that the strong building growth downtown and investment there brings population.
"The downtown is a major component," he said. "We're seeing interest in housing stock outside of downtown and continued investment in the neighborhoods."
Quincy E. Pope Sr., Trotwood's city manager, said that "there is a direct correlation between the 2008 Great Recession and the city's population losses.
Between 2000 and 2020, Trotwood's population dropped nearly 16% from 27,407 to 23,027.
He said the city was hurt as jobs left the area to go overseas or to the South.
"We were hurt when NCR and GM took those jobs South," Pope said. "We had 1,000 houses vacated. We saw growth coming until the Memorial Day tornados (in 2019)."
Pope said the city has recovered about 98% but people were lost, there was a lack of housing and a lot of people moved to Greene County and elsewhere. However, he said the city is looking at sustainable electric vehicle jobs as well as other technical jobs at Wright-Patterson and at the announced Honda and Intel projects.
"We're recovering," he said. "We've had $52 million in investment over the past two years. We're on the rebound. We're a renaissance community.
According to the Census data, Bath Twp. has lost 40.6% of its population from 2000 to 2020. In the 2000 Census, Bath Twp. had a population of 8,225, which has declined to a 2020 Census population of 4,883.
"It's a head-scratcher," said Bath Twp. Administrator Pete Bales.
Bales thinks portions of Bath Twp. population numbers may have been shifted into other adjacent Census tracts as the township includes parts of Wright-Patterson AFB, Wright State University and Fairborn.
"We haven't seen a shift in people leaving the township," Bales said. "There hasn't been much annexation and tremendous growth in the township."