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Center for Rural Pa. director provides context

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Center for Rural Pennsylvania Executive Director Dr. Kyle Kopko speaks during the first stakeholders meeting for Warren Worx held Wednesday.

Context is helpful when trying to solve big challenges.

In this case, the big challenge is the county’s constantly declining population.

It’s the focus of Warren Worx and Dr. Kyle Kopko, the executive director for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, provided that context at the first stakeholders meeting for Warren Worx held Wednesday night at the Youngsville Borough building.

“What you’re doing here really is special,” Kopko said. “I think this is what’s needed to be successful going forward.

Forty-eight of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are considered rural, meaning that rural Pennsylvania includes 3.4 million Pennsylvanians. Kopko pointed out that would make rural Pennsylvania larger than 23 states.

“A lot of the data … may seem bleak,” Kopko acknowledged. “The fact is, if we have the conversation now we can start planning. This is manageable. This is definitely manageable.”

He outlined that the growth observed in the state is mainly in the southeast.

But when you zoom the map out to a nationwide analysis of population gain and loss, Kopko stressed that declines in rural areas are “not unique to Pennsylvania. This is a prolonged macroeconomic phenomenon.”

Shifting to county-specific data, projections Kopko presented show Warren County’s population falling to 37,000 in 2030, 35,590 in 2040 and 34,223 in 2050.

“There’s been this consistent drop in population,” he said, “You’re not alone in this. Many, many counties are similarly situated.”

Kopko identified two of the macro reasons for the population loss — deaths outpacing births and migration patterns. He said there have been more deaths than births “consistently” since the late 1990s or early 2000s.

“For Pennsylvania,” he said, “that’s been a pretty consistent trend.”

The last couple years, though, show a net positive in-migration for Warren County.

“Even though it’s slight, it’s consistent for the last two years,” he pointed out.

He presented a forecast of what 100 married couples making the median household income would do to the situation.

“You’re at least going to have another $10 million in economic activity,” he said. “Their jobs will generate another 30 jobs. Success breeds success. Getting (people) to come is obviously a difficult thing to do.”

He said there is “generally some connection” for people that move to a rural area, some “experience to open the door. That’s generally what we’ve heard.”

He pointed out that there are only a few other counties — McKean, Mercer, Schuylkill and Wayne — that have undertaken something similar to Warren Worx.

“What you’re doing here is a rare phenomenon,” he said. “The common thread is bringing diverse stakeholders together.”

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