Just a few years ago, the Mid-America Regional Council released encouraging population growth forecasts for the Kansas City area.
Counties on the Missouri side of the state line were going to surge by more than 414,000 people by 2040. The potential gain on the Kansas-side counties was pegged at 331,000 residents.
Then the gloomy news arrived this summer.
The latest MARC population projections are far less robust. They make it even clearer, as I have detailed in recent columns, this region faces big problems in creating a robust future. Just one example: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, our area ranked a woeful 21st out of 25 peer cities in job growth rates from June 2011 to this June.
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Civic and political leaders must develop better strategies to compete with peer cities that are soundly beating this region in adding jobs, boosting wages and wooing residents of all ages.
Now for a look at the future, which isn’t looking nearly as positive as it once did.
Previously, MARC estimated the seven counties of Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass in Missouri and Johnson, Wyandotte and Leavenworth in Kansas would grow by 745,000 people between 2010 and 2040.
The new projection slashed that to a gain of 582,000 people — a significant drop of 163,000 residents, or a 22 percent decline.
Missouri-side counties took the biggest projected hit. Jackson County’s growth plummeted by 50 percent, from 135,000 to 68,000. Clay County’s predicted 156,000 extra people fell by a third, to 107,000. Platte and Cass counties could have 25 percent fewer people than once estimated.
Johnson County’s much smaller dip went from 282,000 new residents by 2040 to 266,000. Projections for Wyandotte and Leavenworth stayed almost the same.
So what happened?
Frank Lenk, MARC’s director of research services, in an email offered several reasons for the downward revisions.
The 2010 census showed that “as extensive as the redevelopment around downtown and the Crossroads was, it was not enough to stem the (substantial) population loss in the region’s older urban areas.” That led the MARC forecast team to peel back from its “aggressive” assumptions of how much population growth would occur in already-developed areas — most of which are in Missouri-side counties.
Lenk also said the region’s economic model was revised because “coming out of the Great Recession, changes in the structure of the economy have taken place that are likely to mean the region’s future long-run employment growth is going to be slower than we have historically experienced.” In short, this region could face a period of less wage and income growth, tighter credit and other factors.
These troubles were highlighted in MARC’s gloomy recent “Prosperity at a Crossroads” report. Done with the help of Brookings, it laid out the facts behind the trends of slower growth in this region.
The latest MARC report also contained troubling future employment estimates.
Consider Johnson County’s status as the area’s magnet for jobs. New projections show the county will fail to create more than 61,000 new jobs in any of the three decade-long periods before 2040. That’s concerning, because it added 78,000 from 1980-90 and 99,000 from 1990-2000, before the recession hit.
Johnson County still could account for half the region’s predicted 322,000 new jobs by 2040. It could pass Jackson County as having the biggest employment base in 2020 and the largest population by 2030.
Bully for Johnson County. But the region’s overall trends in population and jobs now look even more distressing. Who’s going to lead the way to reverse those trends?