U.S. Census Bureau reports: Lake County population grew by 1.8 percent last decade

LAKE COUNTY — Although Michigan’s population as a whole is down 0.6 percent during the last 10 years, most west Michigan counties saw an increase in residents, according to data released Tuesday from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report, detailing population changes in all 83 Michigan counties, showed that Lake County’s population increased 1.8 percent, up from 11,333 in 2000 to 11,539 in 2010.

County Clerk Shelly Myers attributes the increase, in part, to the amenities that the area offers. She said many people who vacation in the area return to enjoy their retirement.

“What’s attracting people here is the (environment) — the lakes, (hiking and snowmobile) trails and tourism,” Myers said. “People come here for vacation and end up liking it because it’s serene and relaxing. A lot of tourism things are making people want to live here year-round.”

The census data also reported population increases in surrounding counties: 5.5 percent in Mecosta County, 1.4 percent in Osceola County, 1.2 percent in Newaygo County and 1.5 percent in Mason County. Oceana County is the only county in the region to decrease in population. It saw a 1.1 percent decrease over the last decade.

Lake County will continue to grow in coming years, Myers said, with the reopening of North Lake Correctional Facility. The GEO Group signed a contract with the State of California in November to bring up to 2,580 inmates to the facility. It will continue hiring through the fourth quarter of 2012, bringing on board more than 500 employees by the time the prison is operating at full capacity.

“We certainly hope that the prison (continues population growth),” Myers said. “Not only are we going to have retirees moving up here, we’re going to have families too.”

Local school districts will benefit from families moving to the area to work at the prison.

Baldwin Community Schools Superintendent Randy Howes expects the reopening of the prison to have a positive long-term effect on the district. Baldwin schools has seen an increase in enrollment since 2009, when it implemented the Baldwin Promise, which promises a $5,000 scholarship to every district graduate meeting the program criteria to assist them in continuing their education.

“The general population is going to begin to (continue growing) because the prison is going to be hiring,” Howes said. “There’s no doubt there’s going to be an enormous impact on our school and other schools in the area.”