State lawmakers and local officials aren't panicking over a recent Census report that shows McHenry County losing residents and neighboring counties gaining them.
Labeled as a blip and even inaccurate, the findings that pegged McHenry County's population loss at 0.43 percent – 1,351 total residents – from the 2010 official Census count should alert the county's stakeholders to issues that residents have long grumbled about, local and state policymakers said.
An aging county population looking at retirement, coupled with persistently high property taxes, living costs and inadequate transportation options, could explain why McHenry County is seeing people head over the border to Wisconsin or collar counties such as Lake, Kane and DuPage.
"We enjoyed unprecedented growth in the '80s and '90s. We were able to grow in a matter that was very positive, with well-planned communities and grade schools," said state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake. "We are now dealing with competition that other communities have dealt with, not just from neighboring states, but neighboring counties."
The U.S. Census late last month released its annual population estimates that measured population shifts from 2012 to 2013.
In that span, McHenry County saw a 0.1 percent population decrease, while DuPage and Kane counties led the Chicago area with 0.5 and 0.4 percent growth, respectively.
Lake County, meanwhile, experienced 0.3 percent growth. Illinois' most populous county, Cook County, and Will County both grew at 0.2 percent.
Dating back to the 2010 Census count, McHenry County was the only county in the Chicago area to see a population decrease greater than 450 residents.
Calling the estimates a "blip" worth monitoring, Tryon and state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, said McHenry County communities should coordinate the tools individual towns use to draw and retain businesses.
The state's discouraging business climate, they said, also could be drawing people to jobs out of state, while long commutes from the county could be forcing residents to move closer to their work in Chicago.
"The house is not on fire, yet," Althoff said. "I think that many communities in McHenry County are aware of this anomaly and doing everything they can to be proactive."
Breaking out the Census' county estimates, only Huntley and Algonquin saw growth larger than 1 percent from 2012 to 2013, with Huntley leading at a 1.9 percent increase.
Larger cities such as Crystal Lake and McHenry have seen continual population decreases since the 2010 official count, causing some city officials to question the Census estimates.
Michelle Rentzsch, the planning and economic development director for Crystal Lake, said her department sees "a trend of growth" based on recent residential developments, including the 100-unit Gable Point Apartments and the 60-unit Pedcor apartment project.
"The Census estimates have never been accurate," Rentzsch said. "We glance at them, but I don't give them any worth."
In Huntley, the data reaffirms the concerted effort officials made to grow Huntley in the early 2000s, Business Recruitment Coordinator Victor Narusis said. The result has put the village in the top five Chicago areas for residential housing growth in eight of the past 10 years, he said.
"It's intentional," Narusis said. "We are working hard to grow on the residential side. It's what we need to do to attract additional businesses and retail.”