Despite the overall population increase, there’s been a recent decrease in the amount of students enrolled at JMU.

Harrisonburg has seen a population increase of about 10% over the past decade, according to the Weldon Cooper Center. In 2010, there were 48,914 residents, and there are now 53,997 residents. There’s been a slight decrease in the last two years of 700 residents, but research and policy analyst Hamilton Lombard said these numbers fall in line with national trends.

“The main thing is Harrisonburg is still growing faster than Virginia overall, pulling in a lot of people who move in there who may not be affiliated with JMU,” Lombard said.

Annual estimates of population growth are used for planning and budgeting purposes for local state governments. The population estimates are essential pieces of data that are used to reallocate money back to localities.

The Weldon Cooper Center uses construction data, school enrollment, state administrative data, driver’s license registration and death data to capture an estimate for the population of an area. Lombard said areas in Virginia that have universities have seen more population growth as a result of expanding enrollment, along with increased hiring of staff.

However, because of a decline in high school graduates in the state, there’s been a corresponding decrease in enrollment at JMU, which has caused a corresponding decrease in population, according to the Virginia Department of Education. In the fall of 2018, JMU enrollment decreased by 0.4 percent. All population numbers take JMU into consideration.

There’s slightly slower population growth across Virginia, but Lombard doesn’t see this as a negative indicator for the economy of Harrisonburg.

Harrisonburg tourism manager Jennifer Bell said her office emphasizes highlighting the local area and attracting people to not only come and visit but live in an area that’s attractive and busy. 

“Those types of things that we highlight and promote as a tourism office also work hand in hand with economic development and attracting people who are interested in working in the area and have the skillset and desirability to work many places; they can become attracted to Harrisonburg,” Bell said.

Brian Shull, director of economic development in Harrisonburg, said he’s encouraged by the 10% growth of the population in Harrisonburg over the past decade.

“As I try to attract new business to the Harrisonburg area and help the ones here continue to grow and expand, it’s great to be able to show a growing population and that we’re a desirable community,” Shull said. “People want to live here. It helps with customers, workforce and the whole vibrancy of the community.”

Shull said he believes there’ll be room for future growth in not only Harrisonburg but throughout the Shenandoah Valley. When businesses are looking for employees, it can help to have a growing community to help sell the area and widen their customer base.

“You always want to strive to be a growing community,” Shull said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have 10% growth over the last decade.”

Contact Matthew Sasser at sasserma@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.