Wednesday, March 21, 2001
Fastest-growing areas are far from Tristate's center
By Ken Alltucker and John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer
All Greater Cincinnati counties except Hamilton County grew significantly over the last decade as the region swelled to nearly 2 million people.
While Cincinnati is losing people at a quicker rate than all but a handful of U.S. cities, the Tristate's suburbs are among the fastest-growing communities in the Midwest.
Figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau show Northern Kentucky boasts three of the four fastest-growing counties in the 120-county Bluegrass state Boone, Gallatin and Grant.
Census data released last week showed Warren County is the second fastest-growing of Ohio's 88 counties. Butler and Clermont counties also exhibited large population gains in the 1990s.
The Census 2000 data shows a region that is stretching along Interstates 75 and 71 with the biggest gains in communities that are farthest from Cincinnati. The city and most communities surrounding it like Bellevue and Silverton either lost population or had little growth at all.
Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin said the figures illustrate the need to build homes and businesses on open land closer to Cincinnati as a way to attract families that would otherwise buy larger homes in new, distant subdivisions.
This must change, said Mr. Dowlin, a former Sharonville mayor. This is why I have been advocating for the development of the undeveloped parts of the county east and west of Cincinnati.
The data also show that Cincinnati and communities closest to the city are growing more diverse. Nearly 45,000 fewer white people live in Cincinnati than a decade ago, and racial minorities also make up a small but growing share of Kenton, Campbell and Boone counties.
Northern Kentucky, however, remains predominantly white; no county's minority population is greater than 5 percent,
Overall, the 13-county Greater Cincinnati region spanning Southwest Ohio, Southeastern Indiana and Northern Kentucky grew 8.9 percent to 1,978,894 over the decade.
Vernon Smith of the Kentucky Data Center said Kentucky's most rapid growth occurred in counties linked to cities by interstate.
What we're finding is the counties along the interstates outside the metropolitan areas are showing significant growth, said Mr. Smith.
For instance, Gallatin County along Interstate 71 south of Boone, was Kentucky's third fastest-growing county, up 45.9 percent. Grant County, bisected by Interstate 75, grew 42.2 percent. Wilder, located off Interstate 275, was Kentucky's fastest-growing city, nearly tripling its population.
The only Kentucky county that added people faster than Boone, Gallatin and Grant was Spencer County, southeast of Louisville.
Cincinnati and Dayton lost population while suburban Warren and Butler counties in between the two counties grew rapidly.
The fast growth of Boone County, due in part to a ripple of development around the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, has triggered debate on such issues as sewers, roads and schools.
Jennifer Warner, owner of the First Farm Inn near Boone County's Rabbit Hash, said the rural charm that has attracted so many to the region is being eliminated by new industrial and residential development.
Developers have bought up tracts of land for very little money and they see a gold mine out here, she said.
She cites her daughter's school, North Pointe Elementary, as an example of poorly planned development. The school recently opened without landscaping or an available playground. Parents have trouble navigating a narrow two-lane road to get to school.
Boone County Judge-executive Gary Moore acknowledges the county has grappled with growing pains, particularly maintaining state roads. But he said a newly adopted comprehensive plan balancing the needs of development and open space should settle most disputes.
Managing this growth is something we spent a great deal of time with, Mr. Moore said.
The region's top new business recruiter, Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corp. (Tri-Ed), has even curbed its aggressive recruitment tactics in response to the region's growth.
After landing such corporate behemoths as Toyota and Fidelity Investments in recent years, Tri-Ed has refocused on ensuring existing businesses have enough trained workers rather than courting all types of companies that drain the labor pool.
Unlike Miami, New York, San Francisco and other cities, the Cincinnati area attracts few immigrants. That makes it more difficult for some companies to recruit new employees.
We have a number of businesses who would benefit from additional immigration, said Gary Toebben, president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Some pockets of Northern Kentucky have attracted immigrants. Florence's Hispanic population has rocketed more than 500 percent, but still makes up just 3.8 percent of the city's population.
W. Frank Steely, the founding president of Northern Kentucky University, links Northern Kentucky's population growth to the redevelopment of older areas like Newport and Covington and the rural appeal of outlying areas.
"When Newport got cleaned up, that helped a lot, said Mr. Steely. ""There are no slums in Northern Kentucky. It's a nice place to live.
Cindy Schroeder of the Enquirer contributed to this report.
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