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Numbers dip in Halifax County, across Southside region / February 03, 2014
Southside Virginia’s population is on the decline as the number of births are outpaced by deaths and people leaving the area, according to a report issued this week by University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Services.

Since the 2010 census, Halifax County saw its population shrink by 167 persons, a net decline of 0.5 percent. The number of deaths of county residents exceeded births by 312, but that loss was offset by those moving into the county, which outpaced outward migration by 145 people.

Pittsylvania, Charlotte and Brunswick counties suffered similar losses, Brunswick County’s population fell by 0.9 percent, Charlotte County by 0.7 percent and Pittsylvania County by 0.5 percent.

The big loser in the area, though, was Mecklenburg County, which lost 2.3 percent of its population, or 747 people. The number of deaths for those living in the area exceeded births by 400, and the number of people leaving the county exceeded the number moving in by 347.

Meredith Gunter, who serves as the Outreach Director for Weldon Cooper’s Demographics Research Group, said her study did not look into the reasons for the decline, but was not surprised by the high percentage of loss suffered by Mecklenburg County.

In areas where there is high unemployment, it is natural to see more people leaving then moving in. The younger people depart as they look for jobs.

“What is left behind are the older residents,” said Gunter, adding that also explains why there are more deaths than births in the region. Most Southside counties faced what she called a “modest” drop in population.

Mecklenburg’s population decline was accentuated by the loss of four major employers and a large prison population between 2012 and 2013. Gunther said prisoners are included in the population numbers in the county where they are serving time. As soon as Mecklenburg Correctional Center closed and its inmates were relocated, Mecklenburg County’s population dropped by nearly 700.

The additional population loss suffered by Mecklenburg County, Gunther said, could be explained by the three plant closings at the beginning of 2013 — the Peebles corporate headquarters, International Veneer Company, and Home Care Industries, all in the South Hill area.

Overall, the state’s population continued to grow, but at a much slower rate than in past years. Most of that growth is taking place in the northern urban areas of the state.

Virginia’s population grew between 2012 and 2013 by less than 1 percent, or 74,531 people, to increase the state total population to nearly 8.3 million. While growth last year was the slowest in Virginia since before the recession, the Commonwealth still grew faster than the nation, which grew by 0.7 percent. Compared to other states, Virginia posted the 14th-highest growth rate and the seventh-largest numerical population gain.

While Fredericksburg is the fastest-growing locality since 2010, increasing by more than 15 percent, most urban localities in Virginia also experienced above-average growth, representing a change from the previous decade. Between 2000 and 2010, urban localities grew much more slowly than suburban localities in Virginia; in contrast, during the past four years, many urban areas are among Virginia’s fastest-growing localities, with Arlington, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg, Radford and Richmond among the cities growing at a rate faster than the state since 2010.

Most localities that lost population or experienced natural decreases were located outside of the so-called “urban crescent,” which stretches from Hampton Roads to Richmond and up the Interstate 95 corridor to Northern Virginia. In Southwest Virginia, all seven coal-producing counties declined in population between 2012 and 2013.

The Cooper Center’s population estimates, prepared annually, are the official figures for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The estimates are based on changes since 2010 in housing stock, school enrollment, births, deaths and drivers’ license issuances.

These estimates are important because they are used by agencies like the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Education in funding formulae based on per capita allocations, for such things as budgeting, revenue sharing, and even approving and setting salaries for certain public officials.

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