*This story first appeared in The Budget’s July 18, 2018, Local Edition
By Beverly Keller
More families. Larger families. Younger families.
All three phrases can be used to describe the population found in Holmes County today.
Statistically speaking, Holmes County is the second youngest county in terms of median age. It is second only to Athens County, the home of Ohio University, whose population is young by default due to the influx of college students to the area in hopes of obtaining an education. Third on the list is Franklin County, home to Ohio’s capital, Columbus, as well as The Ohio State University, another bustling college campus.
The median age in Holmes County in 2017 was 30.6 years. That is up slightly from the median age reported in 2010 which was 29.7 years.
According to Holmes County Health Commissioner Michael Derr, the birthrate of about 1,000 per year is definitely a factor that lowers the median age. In addition, he noted there are, on average, 300 deaths per year. “There are a lot of youngins here,” he said. “Babies significantly impact that median age and bring it down quickly. When you have families with lots of children, those numbers keep our age low. What many don’t realize is that even during the most recent recession, Holmes County continued to grow.”
For instance, a family of seven, with two parents at age 35 with five children ages 8, 6, 4, 2 and an infant would have a median age of 6. The median is calculated as the middle number of a set of numbers if the group is odd and the average of the two numbers in the middle if there is an even set of numbers.
For Mark Leininger, who serves as Holmes County’s economic development director, the report is not a surprise at all. “We have more families, that is the bottom line,” he said. “Those families are larger, which means the median age range is also lower.”
He noted that the overall numbers in terms of households with families is also high and could be attributed to the Amish population.
In 2015, the population of Holmes County was 43,957. Of that number, half are considered to be Amish, according to Census data. The population number has experienced a 4 percent growth in the past five years. Roughly 32 percent of the population is under the age of 18.
The median household income ticked up 2 percent in the past year to $53,619. Property values have also increased in the past year by 6 percent to $170,500 with a 76 percent rate of home ownership.
Looking back at the 2000 census, there were 38,943 people in Holmes County which made up 11,337 households. The population density sat at 92 people per square mile. Today, that number sits at an even 100 people per square mile. The largest population shifts could be found in 1910 when the population went down by 10 percent. However, in 1980, the population spiked up nearly 30 percent followed by 12 per- cent in 1990 and 20 percent in 2000.
Derr noted that some of the increase in Holmes County’s overall population can also be attributed to the businesses that have made their homes in Holmes County. “The more businesses that are located here, the more jobs that are available here,” he noted. “That also means that we have to be mindful of the needs of that growing population and provide them needed services. I’ m encouraged with the growth of our county and the youthful ages in it, but with growth comes needed planning.”
While half the population of Holmes County may be Amish, they have the same basic needs in terms of health care. That is where Pomerene Hospital comes into play.
“We take health care and giving the community access to it very seriously,” explained Tony Snyder, CEO of Pomerene Hospital. “We work hard to eliminate barriers to health care for our Amish neighbors and the population as a whole.”
Specifically, in terms of the Amish, Pomerene offers the services of Amish Advocate Laura Schlabach, who works with families to guide them through processes and channels of care.
The hospital is also constantly recruiting new talent to set up shop in Holmes County as a way to increase the overall health of residents.
Economically speaking, while early settlers of Holmes County made their living from the land, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so as a farmer. Hence, many, have found other options ranging from furniture showrooms to repair facilities to quilt shops. And while there are still roadside stands and markets used to supplement the family income, many have found the breadwinner has to work outside the home.
With job numbers up overall and new employers coming into the picture, leaders agree that the future is looking bright for Holmes County.
“Holmes County is always looking to improve,” said Commissioner Joe Miller. “We are always looking for ways to provide more for our residents. As we see our population continue to grow, I think we must be doing something right.”
The Census found the National median age to be 37.8 in 2015 compared to 40 in Belgium, 19 in Afghanistan, 47 in Germany, 28 in Mexico, 53 in Monaco and 16 in Zambia.