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What could be the impacts and consequences of 5,000 fewer Wabash County residents?

By 2050 Wabash County could have 5,000 fewer residents than it does today. This slow but steady decline began in 1980 when the county reached its high point for in-migration and population. That year, close to 400 people moved in and the population tipped over 36,500 residents for the first time. Since then, between 50 and 100 households have left each year. Population isn’t the only measure for community vitality, but the consistent loss has had an impact and will continue to compound.

Communities in decline around Indiana and the broader Midwest have experienced a wide range of effects as a result of the trend. Some of these are expected, direct impacts like declining school enrollment, and lower tax revenue or increasing tax burden. Many are more subtle, like a softening retail and housing market, smaller workforce, and others. Now four decades into the trend, Wabash County can document the changes. A loss of 5,000 additional people would mean 1,800 fewer families and their children in the county’s three school districts, 2,000 fewer needed housing units, along with a greater tax burden on remaining residents and businesses.

“We tend to get fixated on the overall number when we talk about population as communities, but really, it’s about continued investment and sustainability. New people mean more than just our ranking in the state. They mean new families, students, homeowners, businesses, and amenities. Without this energy it makes everything just a little harder.” – Adam Penrod, Town Manager / North Manchester, IN

Regionally, however, the population picture is more positive and points toward opportunity for the county. As Wabash decreased from 1980, the 11-county region centering on Fort Wayne grew by more than 150,000, or 25%. This growth outpaced the state (23% over the same period) and has continued through 2020 with bold plans for one million new residents in the area by 2030. 

Imagine One 85 is a process to confront the population challenge head on. Through direct engagement with the community and stakeholders and in-depth analysis of the county’s conditions and trends, the Steering Committee is working to develop a strong and visionary plan to help lead the communities of the county toward growth. A recent presentation by the group revealed that the county would need to grow by 85 new families or households each year in order to recapture it’s previous population high in 25 years. The “+85” initiative is emerging as a central recommendation of the work, with strategies focused squarely at the challenge. 

Do you care about these issues and want to get involved? On July 14 the Steering Committee will host an event to explore the challenges and potential of Wabash County. The Imagine One 85 Growth Summit will be a unique and interactive moment for community members to share and make a direct impact on their community. The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 PM on the Honeywell Plaza and include food and entertainment highlighting the best of Wabash County. Attendance is free and registration is available on the project website, www.imagineone85.org

If you’re interested in the population issue, demographics, or the analysis that has been completed through the Imagine One 85 process so far, check out the Reports & Analysis page for more information. Volume 3: People, linked to the right, will be of particular relevance to this issue.


This is the first in a multi-part series developed to share the major findings of the Imagine One 85 analysis and community conversations. For more information on the content or reports please contact Imagine One 85 Project Manager Kyle May, kyle@planning-next.com. The full series will also be shared on the process website, www.imagineone85.org.

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