Terre Haute is growing.
The city population increased from 60,785 in 2010 to 61,112 in 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The rise amounted to 327 people, or half a percentage point, but the slight growth still represents positive momentum. Several Indiana cities saw there populations drop two years after the 2010 Census was calculated, including Muncie (down 0.2 percent), South Bend (-0.3), Anderson (-1.0), Gary (-1.4) and Hammond (-1.4). By inching upward, Terre Haute can stabilize its labor force as Baby Boomers continue to retire in greater numbers.
The void left by retiring Boomers may be offset by increasing racial diversity and immigrants to the community and state. The numbers of Hispanic, blacks, Asians and other minorities grew at a faster pace than whites. In fact, in Vigo County, the number of whites fell by 73 people in the two-year period, while other groups increased. Statewide, the average age of white residents stood at 40.2 years, compared to 31.3 for blacks, 30.6 for Asians and 24.5 for Hispanics.
Growth, particularly among family-age people, is vital for this community. For Terre Haute to thrive, thirty- and fortysomething couples must choose to live, work and raise children here. However, from 2000 to 2010, the 35- to 44-year-old sector of the local populous dwindled, from 15,148 at the turn of the century to 13,285 two years ago when the last census was taken. Likewise, Vigo County had 1,401 fewer school-age kids in 2010 than a decade earlier. A 2010 study by an outside consultant predicted an extended decrease in county population. As enrollment shrank, Chauncey Rose Middle School was closed by the Vigo County School Corp.
Obviously, a stagnant or shrinking population can wound a community’s future.
Terre Haute needs young to learn in local schools and keep those education centers vibrant. The town needs those students to graduate prepared for college or technical workforce training, preserving the local economic base. The community needs young parents and their children contributing to and involved in charities, volunteering, paying taxes, coaching youth sports teams, filling houses of worship, supporting arts activities, and becoming active voices in civic issues.
Cities such as Terre Haute should embrace their growing diversity, especially among immigrants, said Ball State University economist Michael Hicks. “For communities all around Indiana, immigration acceptance is important,” said Hicks, director of Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research.
Terre Haute possesses numerous unique quality-of-life attributes that make it attractive to new residents, including the steady enhancement of its college-town atmosphere, engaging arts projects, solid schools, the trails system, recognition of the Wabash River as an economic and cultural asset, and a gradual transformation of the downtown. The city can sustain and add to those pluses by welcoming more and more newcomers.
Growth is clearly possible here. Sure, other Hoosier towns — Fishers, Noblesville, Carmel, Greenwood, Bloomington, Indianapolis and Lafayette — grew faster in the 2010-2012 window, but Terre Haute is hanging tough as the state’s 12th-largest town. The city’s challenge now is to keep the newest elements of its population and bring in more employers and, thus, more residents.