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Fulton, Hancock lead area in modest population gain

FINDLAY - An economic boom lifted some areas of northwest Ohio to impressive population gains in the 1990s, but those increases were mostly offset by declines in many of the region's cities, according to figures released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Fulton County led the region's growth parade, its population rising from 38,498 to 42,084, a jump of 9.3 percent. Hancock County, a prosperous area that includes the city of Findlay, climbed from 65,536 to 71,295, an 8.8 percent increase.

Officials in both counties credited job creation and residents' desire for new housing for their population booms.

“I think a lot of the growth comes from our development and people moving into the community,” said Findlay Mayor John Stozich, citing the addition of 150 jobs in 1998, when Ashland, Inc., merged with Marathon Oil Co. in Findlay. The city's population rose 9.1 percent, from 35,703 to 38,967.

John Trudel, Fulton County's auditor, said new housing subdivisions drew residents to eastern parts of the county, such as Swan Creek Township, while job growth at Sauder Woodworking fueled growth in the village of Archbold. Swan Creek Township enjoyed a 9.9 percent jump in population, from 7,699 to 8,461, while Archbold leaped 24.7 percent, from 3,440 to 4,290.

“Sauder's is definitely a driving force,” he said. “They're the biggest employer in the entire area, and I think there's not enough working bodies in Archbold to serve their needs.”

Other northwest Ohio counties with solid gains included Wood County, with a 6.9 percent jump, and Williams County, which gained 6 percent.

Overall, the population in the 16 counties of northwest Ohio rose a scant 1.4 percent during the decade, according to the Census Bureau.

While Lucas County's 1.6 percent decline helped hold down the region's population growth, other areas farther from Toledo experienced a loss of people too.

Officials in Seneca County, which includes the city of Tiffin and part of the city of Fostoria, were stunned by the reported drop of 1.8 percent in the county's population, from 59,733 to 58,683.

“That really shocks me,” said Jeff Wagner, a Seneca County commissioner. “I would have thought we'd go up a couple thousand.”

Tiffin lost 2.5 percent of its population, slipping to 18,135, while the part of Fostoria that's in Seneca County dropped 7 percent.

Some of the county's rural villages lost residents as well.

Mr. Wagner said the commissioners have been signing plenty of driveway permits for new homes, and he speculated that those houses are occupied by smaller families than in decades past.

A steep drop in Lima's population fed a 1.2 percent drop for Allen County, from 109,755 to 108,473. The city plunged 12 percent, from 45,549 to 40,081. In addition, the villages of Beaverdam and Lafayette posted declines of more than 20 percent.

Alberta Lee, Allen County commission president, questioned the Census Bureau figures.

“I think within the city, obviously we have seen some decline, but in the rest of the county it seems like we have picked up enough people to make up the difference,” she said. “I can hardly believe that some of those other villages had those kinds of losses.”

Ms. Lee, who worked on the county's census committee, said Lima has been hurt by its lack of open spaces for new housing developments, which have drawn residents to nearby suburbs.

Sandusky County's population dipped 0.3 percent, to 61,792, including a 1.5 percent decline in Fremont, the county seat.

Erie County gained 3.6 percent to 79,551 even as its biggest city, Sandusky, dropped 6.5 percent, to 27,844. Several other communities in the county lost people, but the city of Huron rose a healthy 13.2 percent, to 7,958.

Even more eye-opening was the jump in residents for the village of Kelleys Island, a popular Lake Erie vacation spot. Its population rose 113.4 percent, from 172 to 367.

Paulding County lost 1 percent of its population, falling to 20,293. A number of villages lost ground as the county seat, the village of Paulding, surged 38 percent to 3,595.

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