The population in LaGrange and DeKalb counties grew in 2016, while Noble and Steuben counties lost people.

That’s due to multiple factors, but most notably migration toward metro areas and the state’s decreasing birth rate, a state demographer said.

The Indiana Business Research Center released the updated population numbers Thursday, highlighting the changes between 2015 and 2016. Fifty-three of Indiana’s 92 counties lost population, continuing an ongoing trend for the state of people fleeing rural areas for urban and suburban centers.

LaGrange County posted the biggest population percentage growth increase in the four-county area of 1.1 percent, although most of that is due to a high birth rate among the county’s large Amish community.

DeKalb County saw an increase of 0.4 percent, likely helped by its proximity to Fort Wayne.

Noble County lost 0.3 percent of its population from 2015 to 2016. Steuben County shed 0.7 percent of its population, putting it in the bottom fifth of counties in the state.

The 2016 data show a continuation of the rural-to-urban migration pattern of Hoosiers. The Indianapolis metro area is where most of the population growth in the state is occurring, and the Fort Wayne, South Bend and Evansville areas are seeing increases, too.

The rest of the state is losing people.

“Really it’s been going on for 10-15 years, that a handful of metropolitan areas in the state are driving population growth, while large swaths of rural and midsize areas are losing population,” demographer Matt Kinghorn with the Indiana Business Research Center said.

A lot of the migration is due to economic factors, Kinghorn said. People expect to find more jobs and a wider variety of jobs in a larger city. Decades ago, midsize cities were able to maintain their population, but nowadays more and more of those don’t have sufficient job opportunities to keep people in town.

The state’s natural increase in population, which is when there are more births that deaths, has declined by 30 percent since the 2000s, while family size nationwide has been decreasing steadily since the post-World War II era.

Also for the second year straight, Indiana had a negative migration, meaning more people moved out of the state than into it.

Indiana as whole posted a 0.3 percent increase in population from 2015-2016, the smallest gain since 1989. Despite that middling growth, Indiana was the 29th fastest-growing state in the U.S. in 2016 and had greater growth than any of its neighbors.

Northeast Indiana has made growing its population a goal. The 11-county region’s Road to One Million plan is injecting millions of dollars into community development projects in hopes of attracting and retaining residents.

The lack of growth is becoming a limiting factor on the economy. For example, Ligonier officials often note that local manufacturers have dozens of job openings but no candidates to fill them.

LaGrange County recently completed a housing study, and Noble County is considering a similar analysis to find out what types of residences are needed and where. The goal of both is to identify opportunities to create new living spaces for future residents.

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