Census Bureau data indicates continued population decline

The United States Bureau of the Census released population data Thursday documenting the continuation of a steep population decline that has plagued Pine Bluff and Jefferson County for a number of years.

The Census Bureau data shows a population decline in Jefferson County of 4,244 in the period between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2013; and a decline of 1,410 residents in the one-year period from July 1, 2012 to July 1, 2013.

Using July 1 as its data point, the Census Bureau showed a Jefferson County July 1 population of 73,191 in 2013; of 74,601 in 2012; of 76,040 in 2011; and of 77,321 in 2010.

The city of Pine Bluff saw its population drop by almost 11 percent from 2000 to 2010, from 55,034 residents in 2000 to 49,083 in 2010, according to Census data. Meanwhile, Jefferson County’s population shrank from 84,278 in 2000 to 77,435 in 2010.

Pine Bluff’s population loss was equal to 86.9 percent of the overall county population loss from 2000 to 2010. Applying that same percentage to the estimated county loss through July 1, 2013, would indicate a loss of 3,688 residents in the city since April 1, 2010. That would leave Pine Bluff with a population of 45,395. That number is only a mathematical estimation, however; Thursday’s report did not include data for individual cities.

Economic opportunity

Bryan Barnhouse, director of economic development at the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said Thursday that he is presented with a unique set of challenges as the region continues to lose significant population numbers.

“In stark reality terms, it’s tough,” Barnhouse said. “We try to put our arms around the reality of how far people commute for work in this region. The radius from which we pull labor is larger than in other states. Our work with the Strategic Growth Initiative has shown us that people here are willing to drive further to work than people in other states.”

Barnhouse said the Pine Bluff region is working to become more attractive to outside investment.

“We are positioned to bring manufacturing back to Arkansas,” Barnhouse said. “We have strong skills development programs through our two- and four-year institutions of higher education. We have a strong manufacturing council that makes its desires known. We feel that area educators are beginning to listen to the needs of local industry.”

Barnhouse said local young people need to know that it is possible to make a good living and to stay in their hometown.

“We need our kids to see that there are good-paying manufacturing jobs available to them here,” Barnhouse said. “They involve the latest technology and the latest equipment. They need to know that they can enjoy a high standard of living and stay close to home.”