MORRIS – Bucking statewide trends, Grundy County has seen a 16% population increase since 2010, according to numbers from the United States Census Bureau. That growth is at odds with what Illinois and even neighboring counties have been seeing. While other counties in the northeast portion of the state have lost population, Grundy has seen almost 900 people move in.
During that same time frame, Illinois lost about 100,000 residents overall between July 2010 and July 2018, according to recent estimates from the bureau.
As citizens leave, so do the property, income and sales taxes they generate, putting a greater burden on the residents that remain. Reversing the growing trend of Illinois resident outmigration may be the key to preserving the state’s future.
Much of the growth in Grundy County has come in the expansion of Minooka and Channahon, municipalities on the edge of the county and nearest the Chicago metro area. According to data from the Grundy Economic Development Council, the number of building permits issued in Minooka and Channahon have outpaced the rest of Grundy County in 2017 and 2018, and a the majority of the total issued countywide going back to 2010.
In 2018, Channahon issued permits for 93 single-family residences, and Minooka issued 43. The third highest total was in Morris, with 16 permits.
Grundy County Board chairman Chris Balkema said people are attracted to a number of things in the county, including good school systems, reasonable tax rates and low crime.
"Our sales tax rate is at the minimum," he said. "My family and I have come to know and love the good school systems. It's a wonderful place to raise a family."
The access to interstates helps as well, because people can live in Grundy but work in other locations, widening the pool of potential residents.
He said the increased population means there will be greater opportunity for businesses , especially retail, to come to the county, which can benefit everyone. And since the growth rate isn't too quick, he said, it won't impede the agricultural community.
"We've got a great thing going," Balkema said.
Although some areas have gained population, the Chicago Metropolitan Statistical Area – comprised of Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will counties – has experienced overall population decline since July 2014, according to census estimates. Statewide population totals also have been on the decline since July 2013, according to census data.
One factor stimulating this exodus is the state's high property taxes.
But Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said there is much more contributing to population decline than taxes or weather, such as poor public policy.
Although a number of proposals from Gov. JB Pritzker have been advertised to help spur economic growth – such as a graduated income tax and the legalization of recreational marijuana – Redfield said there is no magic bullet for reversing declining population trends.
“The state has not done a really good job of providing support for things communities need to make themselves attractive, not only in competing with other communities but from a state perspective,” Redfield said.
Redfield said he would put property taxes and school funding at the top of the list of public policy issues the state has the capacity to grasp.
Illinois revamped its school funding formula in 2017, but K-12 schools in many districts still are not receiving enough money to hit student adequacy targets or the total resources needed to support the best practices for students to succeed.
Economic shifts into high-tech, service-based industries also can lead people and businesses to leave an area, but Redfield said the things that made northeastern Illinois attractive 200 years ago, such as access to shipping and railways, still are there.
“The trick is how do you look at what the advantages are and what you can use to sell your county or area,” Redfield said.
Kevin Solari contributed to this report.