Officials discuss county’s stagnant population

Published 7:45 pm Friday, March 31, 2017

Beaufort County’s population did not change much from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2016, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The 2010 census shows the county’s population at 47,759 people. Six years and three months later — July 1, 2016 — the county’s estimated population was at 47,526 people, according to census figures, a decline of 233 people. A population estimate for 2015 put the county’s population at 47,561, which is 198 fewer people than in 2010, but 35 more people than on July 1, 2016.

The latest data did not include population estimates for the county’s seven municipalities. Various sources put Washington’s population in the past several years at around 9,800.

From April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2016, the county’s population fluctuated, according to population estimates, by no more than 263 people. The lowest population during that period came in 2013, when the population was estimated at 47,496 people. The county experienced a population decline of less than a half of a percent (0.49) from April 2010 to July 2016.

That population sluggishness is not surprising to area officials, who attribute it to several factors. Some of them think there are ways to stimulate population growth at a slow, steady pace.

County Manager Brian Alligood wrote in an email: “One thing is clear, communities are either growing or dying. There is no such thing as standing still. We have to continue to work hard to create partnerships that can develop opportunities for growth. We should also not be afraid to take advantage of those opportunities when they come our way. If we don’t, we will certainly be left behind.”

Alligood also wrote: “The overall growth of the County, I think, is based on many factors. The great recession certainly did not help as it brought about an extreme slowing of the economy and a tremendous loss of jobs.  It has taken us a while, but we are coming out of that. Also, statewide there is a trend of migration to urban areas. This is mostly due to additional opportunities that are available in those areas. However, there are many groups in Beaufort County that are working to help grow our economy and in turn provide opportunities for people who want to return home, come here as a new start or retire here.”

He cited these examples:

  • The Beaufort County Committee of 100 and the county are working on building an industry-ready building in the industrial park;
  • the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce and its partners are working on the Retire NC program to help attract retirees to the area;
  • Beaufort County Schools, Beaufort Community College and industries working together “create a pipeline of trained workers so that industries can grow and local graduates don’t have to leave the County to find jobs”;
  • many nonprofits are tackling social issues in order to improve the quality of life and create opportunities for everyone.

“The question is not only why the Beaufort County population did not increase but also why did it not decrease like surrounding counties such as Hyde, Martin and Washington,” wrote Martyn Johnson, the Beaufort County’s economic-development director, in an email. “Reasons for Beaufort County’s population remaining relatively unchanged over the past six years are a result of national trends that Ted Abernathy discussed coincidentally at his State of the NC East Alliance Region presentation (Thursday) morning in Greenville.”

Among the national trends slowing growth in the county include, but are not limited to, globalization of business, low birth rate, mismatch of job skills needed and workforce needs, greater growth of services jobs in urban areas and automation of work: agricultural, mining, service, retail and manufacturing, according to Johnson’s email.

Trends fueling growth in the county include, but are not limited to, 82 months of national employment growth, North Carolina “a winner in domestic migration,” slow, positive growth in Greenville and New Bern, direct foreign investment in the state and quality of place attracting retirees, tourists and entrepreneurs, according to Johnson’s email.

“By exploiting the positive trends spurring growth in the Greenville/New Bern/Washington Micropolitan Area Beaufort County should be able to sustain population growth, although likely uneven across the County, through the twenty first century,” Johnson wrote. “The path way to sustainable population growth is to create a quality of place with a skilled workforce and population that is collectively and strategically focused on a prosperous future.”

City Manager Bobby Roberson wrote in an email: “The stagnant population has centered around several concerns: annexation enabling legislature has changed; our older population is increasing and our younger population is decreasing; employment opportunities in the manufacturing sector have been slow, housing starts have been flat and there is still uncertainty on the interest rate. In summary, our population trend is based on many elements, but should increase slightly the next decade.”

County Commissioner Hood Richardson believes there’s a two-pronged cause of the county’s population stagnation. “One of them is that when people come to town I think they pick up pretty quickly that this a clannish area and that it’s not what you might call the open, friendly place that we would like to think it is,” he said. “If you stop and think about it, there are plenty of factions in Washington and around the county. Once people perceive they’re going to have to join one of the factions when they’re sizing the place up, they probably don’t want to have anything to do with it. I think that hurts us a lot.”

Richardson said during his travels in the state and elsewhere he’s noticed that smaller, less-populated areas are losing population. “More and more people are going to more and more — not necessarily metropolitans areas — but areas of concentrated population in order to find work,” he said.

Richardson has another view on the county’s population. “I really don’t care if nobody else moves to Beaufort County, but I do want better jobs and better income for the people that are here. That’s what we need to be working for,” he said.

Catherine Glover, executive director of the Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an email: “I believe as a County we want more and recruiting people and business is a piece of this. It takes a collaborative approach and this includes recent movements like Retire NC and the Industry Ready Building. There is not one answer that will be the solution but many projects with the same goal and vision. Our County wants to move forward and everyone working together is the way this will happen. We have to continue to focus on creating jobs, enticing retirees, promoting our area to tourists and taking care of the businesses here so they can prosper and grow.”


Population observations


Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows Beaufort County’s population continues to remain at levels reported 10 and 20 years ago.

The county’s population has remained at about 47,600 people in about two decades, according to census data.

Neighboring Pitt County’s population increased from 168,148 people in April 2010 to 177,220 people by July 1, 2016, an increase of 5.4 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

Hyde County’s 2010 population was at 5,810 people, falling to 5,517 people by July 1, 2016, according to census data. That’s a decline of 5 percent.

During that same period, North Carolina’s population increased from 9,535,483 people to 10,146,788 people, a 6.4 percent increase.

The population of the 27889 ZIP code (Washington city limits and neighboring areas) on July 1, 2015, was 26,959 people, down from 27,468 people in April 2010.

Area officials offered additional assessments (not included in the main article) on the population stagnation.

County Manager Brian Alligood: “I was at the NCEast Alliance meeting (Thursday) and they had a presentation on transportation infrastructure improvements and its direct relationship to economic growth. The quote was, ‘transportation drives commerce and commerce drives growth.’ I think Beaufort County has a great opportunity for economic growth with the US 17 project. It will provide a 4-lane connection in Beaufort County between US 264 and US 64, and eventually a 4-lane connection from South Carolina to Virginia. This connection, combined with future interstate designations of US 70, US 264 and US 64, will only help to increase opportunities in Beaufort County and throughout all of eastern NC.”

He also wrote: “I’m not sure the changes to the annexation laws have had an influence on the ability of a municipality to grow its population besides limiting the ability to move its corporate limits. By moving the corporate line you obviously can increase the population within a municipality but this might only be due to the moving of the line and not real growth per se.”

Bobby Roberson, Washington’s manager, wrote: “The interesting observation, on my part, for the city and county is a slightly older population than the state averages. Based on the most recent US Census figures, the median ages of the populations for the City of Washington increased from 39.5 to 41.6 and the percentage of people over 65 was from 19% compared to the State percentage of 13%,” City Manager Bobby Roberson wrote in an email. “Looking forward, the trend appears to be continuing: Washington’s future population will likely include a larger percentage of the seniors and lower percentage of persons under 65 than the present population.”

Roberson added: “Our contact with the (Congressional Budget Office) expects Washington’s population will continue to grow, but at a relatively small rate of growth. The face of Washington has remained relatively unchanged since the last census. While the city has not traditionally had many Hispanics or Latinos as residents, the number is increasing slightly. In 2000, only 2.7 of the population identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino. The number increased in 2010 to 5.5%.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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