Based on census data, we can’t say whether recent population gains in Cheshire County are due to migrants flocking here from Boston—or any other city for that matter. What we can say, however, is that our relatively rural region has seen gains while nearby urban population centers have seen losses. This pattern is quite different than that seen during the preceding decade. We can also determine that essentially all population growth in Cheshire County has been due to domestic migration, as opposed to “natural increase” (births – deaths) or international immigration from other countries.
What’s the upshot for regional economic development? One takeaway is that there’s opportunity to encourage new residents—of which there’s suddenly a substantial number—to set down roots and become long-term community members who contribute to our region’s culture, economy, and civic life. This doesn’t necessarily happen automatically. The likelihood of integrating these newcomers will depend in part on whether we as a region proactively welcome them and create avenues for them to make connections with neighbors, friends, and colleagues. This process can take many different forms. Young professional networks, local welcome wagon initiatives, cultural programming, active public libraries, and strong public schools are just a few examples.
The recent bump in population also underscores the importance of another economic development issue: housing. Even before the pandemic, when the region’s population was in decline, housing was in short supply, especially in the rental and starter home markets. (A tightening housing market is possible even where the local population is shrinking. Smaller household sizes, among other factors, can contribute to such a phenomenon.) Today, as our region experiences growth in population, increasing the supply and variety of available housing units will be key for ensuring that prices remain attainable for working and middle class families. Expanded housing opportunity will be necessary for the region to continue counteracting previous population loss and welcoming new, much-needed workers and other community members.