Tuolumne County residents, Realtors and business owners have weathered some tough economic storms over the past three years. Some of the hardship is reflected in the latest release of 2010 census data.
While California grew by 10 percent - and the entire U.S. by 9.7 percent - Tuolumne County grew by just 1.6 percent over the last 10 years. After growing by 4 percent in 2000-2007, the loss of jobs in logging, timber mills, construction, government and retail and the accompanying relocation of young families - coupled with less "in-migration" of retirees from other California communities - all contributed to population declines over the past three years.
Attracting California and out-of state families to relocate to Tuolumne
County is especially critical due to our demographics. We average
roughly 450 births and 600 deaths each year. Obviously, we can grow
only by offsetting this "natural" decrease in annual population by
attracting new residents. Tuolumne County ranks sixth out of 58
California counties in terms of its aging population. The median age
for Tuolumne residents is 47.3; for Calaveras it's 49.2 (fourth highest
in the state). Statewide the median age is 35.2
We have the kind of lifestyle and amenities that have drawn
people for years - especially active retirees. Along with our favorable
climate, scenic beauty, abundant recreational opportunities and Gold
Rush history, we have excellent medical facilities, responsive
government officials, first-rate schools, wonderful churches, community
theaters and engaged, generous and caring citizens. As new retailers
open for business and existing businesses expand, Sonora is re-emerging
as a regional shopping destination. Groveland and the South County
continues to grow and develop as an attractive gateway to Yosemite
Although some may be discouraged by the slow rate of growth,
Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority executive director Larry
Cope says: "I feel that it's too early to draw any substantial
conclusions out of the preliminary Census Data. We have to remember
that it represents only a "snapshot in time" of our community. Changes
are happening constantly."
For those people who say they are happy to see a no-growth
environment, they don't realize that stagnation leads to economic
decline, reductions in government services, fewer business start-ups
and an overall deterioration in community well-being.
No one is advocating the galloping and excessive population growth
seen in Modesto or Merced in years past. That's never going to happen
here. In a county where federal government ownership of land approaches
80 percent, where the Williamson Act protects another 10 percent of
ranchland, Tuolumne County has only an estimated 3 percent of its
acreage left available for residential or commercial development,
according to data compiled from the Tuolumne County Planning Department.
Many would hope to see a moderate growth rate of 1 percent a year
- 10 percent for a decade. This would be consistent with the Tuolumne
Tomorrow Regional Blueprint - a planning document that will help the
county prepare for its inevitable rebound and expansion. Projections
say that by 2050 Tuolumne County's population will grow by 30,000
residents - from 56,000 to 86,000.
Remember also that the latest census data reflects the on-going
rural nature and abundance of open space in both Tuolumne and Calaveras
counties - something we all want to preserve. Tuolumne has a population
of 25 persons per square mile; Calaveras has 45 per square mile. The
state average is 239 per square mile. Sacramento County is 1,471
persons per square mile. And don't even ask about Los Angeles and
Orange county numbers - they're off the charts.
We're confident that the local economy is in a recovery mode. New
hiring at SPI's Standard Mill, at Sandvik, Avalon Health Care and at
local retailers will help Tuolumne County rebound. Housing - always a
lagging indicator - will see some pent-up demand break loose soon. Gov.
Jerry Brown's revised budget, released last week, indicates that state
tax receipts were $6.6 billion higher than originally forecast. That's
good news for all of us - and especially for K-12 funding.
Job growth and business expansion in Tuolumne County - along with a
continued emphasis on economic development and tourism - will help us
grow again in population and get our local economy back on track.