In northwest Indiana, Lake and Porter counties have found themselves on alternative tracks in recent years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Indiana grew by more than 140,000 people during the past six years, but data released Thursday from the U.S. Census Bureau found that trend isn't always mirrored in northwest Indiana.

For every person who moved into Porter County during the past six years, three left Lake County, according to the data.

Of 92 Indiana counties, Lake had the sharpest decline in population during the past six years, losing more than 10,000 residents, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Porter County ranked 13th in the state for gains during the past six years, with more than 3,000 residents.

Rex Richards, president of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, cited Porter County's "outstanding" school districts. Affordable housing with good property values, nice parks and lots to do makes the area attractive, he said.

"When you put it all together, Porter County is just a really great place for people to raise a family," Richards said.

Porter County has had an average increase of more than 500 residents per year, while Lake County has had an average decline of more than 1,600 residents per year, according to census data.

The information the Census Bureau released Thursday did not include numbers for individual communities, but Peter Novak, CEO of the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors, said that in Lake and Porter counties, homebuying patterns show people are generally moving out of the northwestern areas to go south and east.

"I would say first and foremost, it just has to do with the availability of land," Novak said.

In those areas, communities aren't as fully developed, meaning there's room to build and develop homes to meet families' needs, he said. While there is availability to develop in northern Lake County, it is more landlocked, he said.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said to reduce suburban sprawl, "we have to increase the number of amenities that are available to the residents" and bring together people in building up communities and neighborhoods in cities.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said "it's no secret that people have been moving to Porter County and from north of Ridge Road to south," but it doesn't mean people still aren't moving into places such as Hammond. Cities such as Hammond are older, but there is work that can be done to "rebuild ourselves," he said.

From a tourism standpoint, northwest Indiana attracts visitors close to Chicago and the lakefront at a reasonable price, said Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We've got a lot going for us from a visitation point of view," he said.

As there's a changing dependency on the manufacturing industry in the area, there has to be a plan to attract young families and millennials, who may have left for college or other opportunities, with jobs and attractions, Batistatos said.

The Gary Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Lake, Porter, Newton and Jasper counties, lost 1 percent of its population during the past six years, a drop from 708,280 to 700,994 residents.

Lake County's population decreased by 2 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 495,970 in 2010 to 485,846 in 2016.

Porter County grew by 2 percent during the past six years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 164,558 in 2010 to 167,791 in 2016.

Freeman-Wilson and McDermott said they don't feel that the census numbers reflect the entire picture of the people who live in the area, but there is work to be done to keep people wanting to come to northwest Indiana.

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