COLUMBUS — Population changes in Ohio during the 1990s created unique challenges to local leaders and development professionals.
From 1990 to 1998, Ohio’s population grew an estimated 3.3 percent. But the pattern of growth has not been uniform across the state, according to Jeff Sharp, an Ohio State University Extension rural sociology specialist.
Nineteen Ohio counties have grown an estimated 10 percent or more between 1990 and 1998, most of which are near Ohio’s major cities or in the Appalachian region.
The surge in rural population mimics a similar pattern of rural population growth and redistribution that occurred in the 1970s because of increased employment opportunities, an increase in the number of people who were able to move, and a desire to live in smaller towns and rural communities. Some labeled the ’70s trend as the “rural turnaround.”
Following a period of stagnant population growth in rural America in the 1980s, some are calling the renewed growth of the ’90s the “rural rebound,” Sharp said.
During the 1990s, the population growth in nonmetro counties, 5.6 percent, was double that of metro counties, 2.8 percent.
This rural population change can create significant challenges in an already densely populated state, Sharp said. Concerns such as open space and farmland preservation and agricultural and livestock operation siting may be most pronounced in the historically rural counties near the state’s largest cities.
“At some point, the challenge of farming in a semi-urban environment may force some producers to either exit agriculture, move to less populated areas or shift into new types of agriculture that take advantage of the increased population,” he said.
Alternative types of agriculture that could be profitable in increasingly urbanized areas include greenhouses and the green industry, horse farms, and farm markets that promote and sell the farm experience, Sharp said.
“Fifty years ago we’d talk about ‘farming communities’ that were primarily farmers and people who provided services for farms, but in the future we’ll talk about ‘farming in a community’ where most of the people are not involved in the agricultural industry at all,” he said.
But, maintaining the rural and agricultural character of rural areas, despite the significant population increases, is important, Sharp said.
“If one of the attractions of the rural-urban fringe counties is their rural character, then being able to maintain that character becomes an important policy and planning concern,” Sharp said.
Ohio has historically been one of the largest states and currently is the seventh most populous state in the United States, trailing only California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
The statewide population density of 244 people per square mile is the ninth highest in the nation, behind New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania, all located to the east.
Ohio has the fifth largest rural population.