Midwest Population Shifts in Pictures

I found these maps online earlier this week.  They paint a picture that meshes pretty well with my understanding when it comes to recent growth and migration across the Midwest.   Take western North Dakota, for example.  There wasn’t much growth there from 2002-2008, but then it really took off as oil and gas workers poured in to work the Bakken formation.


Another thing that these maps show is the mass exodus from Illinois.   The city of Chicago has been shrinking for well on 60 years now.  It’s down over one million people from peak population, but most of those folks have historically moved to nearby suburbs.  Not any longer.  You can see suburban growth clearly in the first map, but it’s gone in the second map.  It looks like a lot of those people are moving north and west along the I-94 corridor to Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Rural Illinois also continues to bleed residents as well.   It looks like Kansas on the second map.

Midwest growth has slowed since 2010.  This makes sense.  The economy has stabilized and so not as many people are on the road looking for work.

With the exception of Illinois, college towns and state capitals continue to grow.  Ames, Iowa City, Madison, Columbia, Columbus, Lincoln, Lafayette are all continuing to draw new residents.  Grand Rapids is neither a college town or state capital, but it is a surprising bright spot in a state that has seen more than its share of struggles.   Cities who want to grow might want to look at what they’re doing there.

The rural Midwest continues to lose population.  While the popular mythology of the day says that urban areas are the beneficiaries, these people are moving mostly to the suburbs.  You can see this in the Twin Cities, Indianapolis and Columbus on the maps.  Some suburbs are urbanizing.   Eden Prairie MN and Carmel IN come to mind.

So what does the future hold?  I see two things happening.  One, the rural exodus is going to end at some point.  Rural quality of life appeals to far too many people for it to continue. Communities that invest in state of the art connectivity will attract new residents, many of whom will telecommute to jobs in the big city.   If I was looking for real estate now, this is where I’d be focused.   Pick a high quality of life community with engaged citizens.  Settle into the flow of life.  You’ll be rewarded for your risk taking, not only financially but in terms of quality of life.


Urban Indianapolis.  This building has been redeveloped since I left.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that there are hundreds just like it that haven’t.

The other thing I see is the end of the urban renaissance “fairy tale.”  I’m worried for cities like Detroit, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Cleveland.  They’ve seen a lot of new investment in their cores, but I don’t get the feeling that it’s sustainable. Not enough of it is organic.

Of these cities, I know Indianapolis best and it just feels contrived and overbuilt to me.  The new units coming online are priced at levels not historically seen.  The core is still surrounded by large swaths of abandoned and neglected neighborhoods.  Crime is off the charts.  The urban school district is failing.  It’s not a recipe that attracts families with children and without children a city has no future.

Time will tell…



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