ST. ALBANS — The state’s Dept. of Labor released a report earlier this month confirming that Franklin County has grown since the 2010 census, bucking some of the demographic trends impacting communities elsewhere in Vermont.
That report paints Franklin County as an economy of healthcare workers, manufacturers, retailers and government employees, and as one of the few Vermont communities growing in light of ongoing fears of population loss statewide.
It also shows Franklin County to be a county of commuters, with only half of Franklin County’s employed workers actually staying within the county to work every day
According to the report, Franklin County was one of only a handful of counties that saw its population projected to grow since the 2010 census. With a growth rate of 2.4 percent, the county’s population was expected to have grown by 1,169 between 2010 and 2016, contrasting with a continued population loss expected for much of Vermont’s southern and eastern counties.
Only Addison, Chittenden and Lamoille Counties were also projected to have population growth.
Much of Franklin County’s population growth is tied directly to Chittenden County, according to Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation (FCIDC) executive director Tim Smith.
He highlighted a fact noted in the Dept. of Labor’s study: Much of Franklin County’s workforce travels south to Chittenden every day.
In 2015, only 46 percent – or roughly 10,800 – of Franklin County’s employed population work in Franklin County, according to the Dept. of Labor. Meanwhile almost 40 percent of the county’s workforce commuted to Chittenden County.
“Housing’s cheaper, and I think we have a good job base,” said Smith. “Between the two, that, I think, accounts for the population growth we’re seeing.”
Statewide, Vermont’s population was projected to have declined by 1,147, a 0.2 percent dip since the last census, according to the Dept. of Labor’s report.
The largest economic drivers in Franklin County were the government, health care, manufacturing and retail sectors.
The government sector, ranging from municipal employees to federal Border Patrol, was far and away the largest employer in Franklin County, providing nearly 25 percent of all jobs in the county.
Manufacturing and health care were the second and third largest employers in the county respectively. Collectively, those two industries provide 5,100 jobs to the county.
Franklin County families reportedly saw their income increase since 2010. The county’s per capita income is believed to have increased 21 percent since the 2010 census, a rate that puts Franklin County behind the state average of 22 percent.
While the study attests the economy grew, another study, conducted by the Public Assets Institutes, suggests much of that growth was uneven, stating that “economic growth disproportionately benefited those at the top.”
That study also noted how unevenly economic growth occurred statewide.
In 2016 only Washington and Chittenden Counties’ average wages were above the statewide average of $46,115. The average wage in Franklin County was $45,793 and the average income in Franklin County only at $42,178.
There were also disparities within in the county noted by the Dept. of Labor’s study. In the case of Richford and St. Albans City especially, the average wage far outpaced the income of the average resident.
In St. Albans City’s case, the average job paid $51,153 annually, while the average income hovered at $35,488.
A similar divide marred Richford, where the average annual wage was $41,566 but income steadied at $26,857.
While Richford still provides relatively well-paying jobs at places like the Blue Seal Feed plant near the Canadian border and at the Northern Tier Centers for Health in Richford’s downtown, Smith noted that the town’s struggled with the loss of major employers, such as the decline of the logging industry.
Smith disagreed with the notion that economic benefits were concentrated primarily at the top, citing the manufacturing sector specifically, where, according to Smith, wages have increased substantially since 2010.
“We’ve seen a steady growth in manufacturing wages,” Smith said. “Five years ago, all of those wages were in $13-$15 range and now they’re in the $18 range. I think, locally, we’ve really seen some growth.”
Those numbers, Smith said, came from regular two-year studies conducted by FCIDC.
While he said he couldn’t speak to some of the details of economic growth in Franklin County, he did note that, in his role as Mayor of St. Albans City, he saw an increase in tourism activity.
He also stressed that no one industry can be the economic driver in a community.
“It’s never just one thing that’ll improve our economy,” Smith said. “It’s everything together. It’s not just one piece over the other.”
The Dept. of Labor’s study projected population growth for all but three towns in Franklin County: Montgomery, Richford and St. Albans City.
Those projections are largely based on trends recorded before the 2010 census, ahead of a major revitalization project in St. Albans City and a wider trend of development-minded efforts county-wide.
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