Street view of a colorful apartment building in Liberty Center

New estimates say central Ohio could be home to 3 million people by 2050

May 9th, 2016

By Mark Ferenchik, The Columbus Dispatch

Two years ago, area planners estimated that central Ohio’s population would grow by 500,000 people between 2010 and 2050.

Now, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission says the seven-county region could grow by 1 million.

This year’s State of the Region report, to be released today, says new projections based on recent population shifts and building trends show the overall population in the region perhaps nearing 3 million in 34 years.

“When we looked at the results of the last five years, it’s pretty interesting and pretty stunning,” said William Murdock, the planning agency’s executive director. “The growth is happening faster than we thought.”

Between 2010 and 2015, the region added 115,000 people, including 20,000 children and 25,000 seniors.

“At a minimum, we are on track to add 500,000, with the possibility of adding upward of 1 million people by 2050,” according to the planning agency.

That would make the region the most populous in the state.

Job growth outpaced population growth; the region added 122,000 jobs between 2010 and 2015. Of course, the strong growth might not last. Variables such as economic dips could change all that, Murdock said.

Much of the recent housing growth has been inward. According to the planning agency, just 14 square miles of green space were developed between 2010 and 2015, and a total of 25 square miles overall, Murdock said.

He said 36,000 housing units were added in those five years, with 62 percent of them multifamily units. Population growth outpacing the new housing supply could hurt affordability, he said.

Jim Hilz, executive director of the Building Industry Association of Central Ohio, said the residential construction boom has made it challenging to find workers. “It’s impacting every builder, slowing things down, increasing costs,” Hilz said, adding that a lot of work is a good problem to have.

At the same time, the area needs to be able to provide the “move-up” housing needed to keep up with job growth, he said.

Kevin Wheeler, Columbus’ planning administrator, said he sees smaller households and houses as people continue to move back into central city areas.

But it’s not just housing that has to keep pace.

“Do we have the people to fill the jobs we might be able to create here?” said Yaromir Steiner, chairman of the steering committee of the insight2050 board and CEO of Steiner & Associates, which helped develop Easton Town Center.

“I think we are creating a city attractive to live in. We need to be able to fill it,” he said.

That means aggressively attracting and keeping immigrants and college graduates. Steiner even suggested creating incentives for companies to recruit executives from out of town.

Alex Fischer, president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, said it’s important that population keeps pace with job growth. In recent years, central Ohio has been a leader in job growth in the Midwest, he said.

Kenny McDonald, president and CEO of Columbus 2020, the region’s economic development group, said people follow job growth. “We have to … double down on our effort, a concentrated effort to help our companies grow, promote the high-tech sector, bring new companies to the region.”

The State of the Region luncheon will be held today at the Hilton Columbus Downtown. Insight2050 is a collaboration of MORPC, the Urban Land Institute and Columbus 2020.

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