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Neighbors react to census data showing population decrease in Greene and Columbia counties

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March 26, 2018 11:43 pm

A new report using census data by the Empire Center for Public Policy shows a drop in population rates in Greene and Columbia counties by almost 4 percent since 2010. But some residents and county officials argue that those numbers don’t add up.

Census data shows 42 of 50 upstate counties have seen a population drop exceeding 1 percent, in all but one county. Greene County ranked 49th out of 62 total counties with a 3.6 percent population decrease. Columbia County ranked 54th with a 3.9 percent population decrease, according to the report released on March 22.

Many residents in Catskill said they expected village populations to be rising due to an influx of residents moving from New York City.

“Population has been growing,” Catskill resident Roz Viemeister said. “There’s an influx of people to Catskill from the city and people buying second homes.”

“But where in the county are they going?” Donna Christensen of the Catskill Community Center said. “Every week someone pops in and goes, ‘I just moved here!’ but what about other places in the county.”

“[The population decline] dosen’t surprise me,” Catskill resident Rip Wagoner said, adding that recent investment along Main Street doesn’t always reflect long-term growth, especially without a thriving middle class. “A lot of people move to the area having heard about how beautiful and quaint the town is,” Wagoner said. “But when they get here, after a year, they realize there’s not a lot of job opportunity here.”

Newcomer Erin Wright has seen the population of millennial women increase in Hudson. “Several of my friends are planning on moving to the area from Boston and New York,” Wright said. “All women who are sick of city life and looking for something different.” Wright works at Otto’s Market in Germantown, helping the business expand its catering and event service, but she said she didn’t move to town for the job.

“Cost of living was cheaper than the city but [Hudson] still had elements of city living,” Wright said.

“There’s not really much to do here,” said Kulton McCall, who went to high school in Hudson moved to Brooklyn to pursue a music career. “And also jobs, if you’re not trying to work in health care or human services or construction, you have to look elsewhere. Most of my friends from high school have totally left.”

“I’ve been here 11 years, more people are moving up from New York City,” Astrid Jehanno, owner of Le Gamin Country Restaurant on Warren Street, said. Jehanno moved her business to Hudson from Brooklyn, and said she wasn’t concerned about decreases in foot traffic or business.

“The population has definitely not gone down,” said Amity Gribble, Hudson resident and waitress at Le Gamin.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the population may drop because of socioeconomic reasons,” said Kinderhook resident Scott Olsen, who owned a cafe in Valatie. “Young kids, if they’re ambitious, they tend to leave the county if they don’t want to be farmers or low-wage employees or work in Albany.”

“The people that form the basis of an economy, which are middle-income workers, aren’t coming up here,” Olsen said. “It’s people who’re retired or people who can telecommute, We’re just a little far out of the mark, bringing young people and getting them to stay is the biggest challenge.”

The total state population has grown by 2.4 percent since the 2010 census, less than half the national growth of 5.5 percent, according to the report. But the majority of that growth took place in the downstate region, which includes New York City, Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley. The biggest population losses since the 2010 census have been in the upstate rural counties of Hamilton, Delaware, Chenango, Tioga and Orleans, according to the report.

“There’s no panic going on here,” Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said, noting that census data includes prison populations and second homes.

“These broad-brushed numbers,” Groden said. “You have to get behind the numbers.”

The total population in Greene County is down by 1,751 compared to census data from 2010, according to the report. That statistic reflects the total migration to the county plus the ‘natural increase,’ or rates of birth minus rates of death, according to Abigail Salvatore, communications director for Empire Center for Public Policy.

“It’s an estimate,” Groden said. “I’m not worried about it.”

A large segment of Greene County housing stock includes second homes, which could also affect the population data points, Groden said. “This market also represents our potential for growth because people can retire to their second homes.”

For the segment of the population that leaves to attend college and begin careers, the county’s economic development office focusing on helping independent businesses overcome obstacles like access to broadband, Groden said.

“We are somewhat of a bedroom community — people live here and commute to work in Albany. It’s hardly a tragic commute,” he said.