WHEELING - West Virginia's six northern counties - Tyler, Wetzel, Marshall, Ohio, Brooke and Hancock - lost 6.1 percent of their population during the past decade, going from a combined 168,345 residents in 2000 to 158,086 residents in 2010, new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate.
The numbers, released Wednesday, also show Wheeling lost 9.3 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010 and is now the state's fifth largest city, being supplanted by Morgantown. In 2000, the city had 31,419 residents; the new numbers show Wheeling with 28,486.
Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie reserved comment until he had a chance to review the new population figures.
Wheeling in 1950 had a population of 58,891, according to the U.S. Census. The population decline was then under way from a high of more than 60,000 in the 1940s to 28,486 in 2010.
Weirton lost 665 residents over the 10-year span, going from 20,411 residents in 2000 to 19,746 in 2010.
Weirton City Manager Gary DuFour knows the news could have been much worse, in light of developments there since the last census - namely the 2003 bankruptcy of Weirton Steel Corp., whose facilities now are owned by ArcelorMittal. Only about 900 workers remain at what once was West Virginia's largest employer.
"I'm dismayed at any loss of population, certainly," said DuFour. "But given the loss of a massive employer for the valley, I would say that we've fared pretty well."
figures show the severity of population drop
City 2010 Pop. 2000 Pop. Change
Wheeling 28,486 31,419 -2,933
Weirton 19,746 20,411 -665
Moundsville 9,318 9,998 -680
New Martinsville 5,366 5,984 -618
Follansbee 2,986 3,115 -129
Wellsburg 2,805 2,891 -86
Paden City 2,633 2,860 -227
Bethlehem 2,499 2,651 -152
McMechen 1,926 1,937 -11
Glen Dale 1,526 1,552 -26
Benwood 1,420 1,585 -165
Sistersville 1,396 1,588 -192
Middlebourne 815 870 -55
Brooke 24,06925,447 -1,378
Hancock 30,67632,667 -1,991
Marshall 33,10735,519 -2,412
Ohio 44,44347,427 -2,984
Tyler 9,208 9,592 -384
Wetzel 16,58317,693 -1,110
He added the numbers support the idea of Weirton's transition to a "bedroom community" for people who commute to the Pittsburgh area. Those people can take advantage of easy access via U.S. 22 and the Findlay Connector to the Pittsburgh International Airport, which opened in 2006.
The results reflect "favorably on Weirton and its quality, and the desire of people to live here, even though they may work somewhere else," said DuFour.
Moundsville's population has declined from 9,998 in 2000 to 9,318 today.
"From the city's perspective, we're always concerned to see a decline in population. ... We feel the decline has been due to the loss of manufacturing jobs. We doing everything we can to make the city a place where people want to live," Moundsville City Manager Allen Hendershot said.
Mayor Dennis Wallace had similar views.
"It's all ... the work force. When there is very little here, young people have to move. The question is how do you fix it? I don't have a clue. At one time we had Fostoria, the stamping plant, chemical plants. They're all gone," Wallace said. "We have a ... low crime rate, we have good infrastructure. ... What do you do to get in more jobs?"
Ohio County's population fell from 47,427 in 2000 to 44,443 currently, with nearly all of the 2,984-person loss occurring within the city of Wheeling's borders. Wheeling lost 2,933 residents during the 10-year span.
"It's disappointing to see these reports ... ," said Ohio County Commissioner Randy Wharton. "We're working hard to reverse that trend."
Wharton, noting he had not yet read the report himself, said he would like to see a demographic breakdown of the losses.
Marshall County's population has dropped from 35,519 in 2000 to its current 33,107.
Commissioner Jake Padlow said, "I think from the county standpoint it's ironic. Over the last four years we went from a Class III county to a Class I. We're growing, our budget is growing, but population is down. It's hard to explain.
"I think jobs in the county are going to people from out of state. ... We're going to pass a $13-$14 million budget," he continued. "We're one of the few counties in the state to move up two classes in three years.
"I hate to see people moving away," Padlow added. "Some people are just selling their property and moving out. With the gas industry moving in, that might increase."
In Follansbee, population has dropped from 3,115 in 2000 to 2,986 currently. Mayor Tony Paesano said Follansbee has come through the recent economic crisis better than many municipalities and believes that's why the town's population has remained relatively stable.
"We've brought in many, many businesses and our plants around us are working, so we have a good industrial base that helps us," he said. "In spite of that slight drop, we're still balancing our budget. We're solvent financially, and we're looking for a surplus."
Paesano also credits the quality of local schools and Follansbee's low crime rate.
"That's a big item. People are looking for a safe, secure place to live and raise their children," he said.
On the state level, Morgantown and Berkeley County were among the areas that saw growth over the past 10 years.
Charleston, the state's capital, has 51,400 residents, a 3.8 percent drop from 2000. Huntington remains the state's second most-populous city at 49,138, but it's seen a 4.9 percent decline. Parkersburg remains the state's third-largest city at 31,492, with Morgantown fourth at 29,600, a 10.6 percent increase from 2000.
Among counties, Kanawha remains the largest at 193,063. Its population shrank by 3.5 percent. The Eastern Panhandle's Berkeley County grew by 37.2 percent and reached 104,169 residents in 2010.
Christiadi, a demographer at West Virginia University's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, sees a shift coming in the state Legislature's makeup due to the new census figures.
"Based upon these population trends, we can expect to see ... more seats going to the regions in the north and eastern parts of the state," said Christiadi, who uses only one name.
Christiadi pointed to several findings in the new census figures:
"Strong population growth in those regions is driven primarily by net-migration as people continued to move in for jobs, better and cheaper housing or, in some cases, better schools," Christiadi said. "With most counties having a large and increasing share of old people, population growth is less likely to originate from births.
"In fact, over 70 percent of West Virginia counties in the last decade experienced negative natural growth, where deaths exceed births. This trend of negative natural growth is expected to intensify in the next decade as many more people will reach the age of 65 years and older," he said.