Population in area still going down

FAIRMONT — Recently released U.S. census data reveals an issue that small communities continue to face: declining population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017 the population of Martin County dropped from 19,890 to 19,850, a continuance of a slow decline. Since 2010, the population has decreased by 951 residents.

Faribault County also has seen a steady decrease, with the population losing about 71 residents in the past year. Since 2010, the population has dropped from 14,481 to 13,784.

Martin County Commission chairman Tom Mahoney attributes the population decline to the lack of high-paying job opportunities in the area. With fewer opportunities, young people are less likely to buy a house and contribute to the economy.

“It’s a sign of the times,” he said. “You can see it especially in the smaller cities.”

Unable to attract young people, both Faribault and Martin County have a large aging population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of residents 65 and older in both counties is over 22 percent. According to censusreporter.org, this is 1.5 times higher than the rate in Minnesota.

Another reason people may be leaving the area, Mahoney said, is the lack of businesses to serve the different needs of the community. Over the years, large businesses have left the county, leaving spaces that have yet to be filled.

“With a decline population and job losses, you just have the opportunities you have elsewhere,” he said.

While there may be a lack of jobs in some areas, there are still industries in the county in need of trained skilled workers, such as welders, carpenters and electricians.

“Obviously the big push is for people to go to college, but college isn’t for everybody,” Mahoney said. “And just because you got to college doesn’t mean you’re going to make a lot of money or get a job in your field.”