CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County once again topped the state in the number of people leaving a West Virginia county in 2017, according to new U.S. Census Bureau figures.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that 2,804 people left Kanawha, according to 2017 population estimates. It’s the fifth straight year Kanawha led the state in people leaving a county.
Kanawha had the 10th-highest population decrease by individuals of all counties in the nation in 2017. It ranked 19th in 2016.
“Sometimes, these numbers don’t mean a lot. When people leave here, they could be leaving 8 miles down the road to a new (housing) development or something similar,” said Kent Carper, Kanawha County Commission president. “It’s not good, we don’t like to see our people leave, but with some new activities we have going — some new construction jobs, and other things — we expect to see that turn around in 2018.”
Despite the high number of people leaving, they only made up 1.5 percent of Kanawha’s total population, which sits at an estimated 183,293 people and is the largest in West Virginia, according to the Census data.
Farther south, McDowell County held the highest percentage of population decrease, with 3.5 percent — 683 people — leaving the county.
That percentage decrease was fourth-highest in the nation, according to the Census. It leaves the county with a total population of 18,456 people. In 2016, the county ranked 13th highest in percentage of population loss.
McDowell has lost residents consistently for more than six years. While the latest news was disappointing, McDowell County Commissioner Cecil Patterson said he wasn’t surprised.
“We’re a one-industry economy — and that’s the coal industry,” Patterson said. “When it started to fall, and when it still falls, our people, they move. They cross the border to North Carolina or Virginia or somewhere they can make more money and find work.”
The most eastern counties in the Eastern Panhandle held the top three highest percentages of population growth in the state. Berkeley had a 1.5 percent increase; Jefferson, 0.9 percent; and Morgan, 0.6 percent.
In 2017, a total of 45 counties had a population decline. Nine saw population increases and one — Pleasants County — stayed the same.
Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.