Census estimates show southern Lake County, Porter County gained population in 2023

Cities and towns in southern Lake County are growing in population as are Valparaiso, Portage and Chesterton in Porter County, according to U.S. Census estimates released this week.

From 2022 to 2023, areas like St. John and Cedar Lake saw population increases. St. John saw an increase from 22,826 residents to 23,644 residents while Cedar Lake saw an increase from 15,565 residents to 16,068 residents, according to the data.

Annual estimates between the 10-year census counts are based in part on counting births, deaths, and moves in and out, using the number of tax returns and Medicare filings, unlike the once-a-decade census that counts responses from household surveys.

Lake County Councilman Randy Niemeyer, R-Cedar Lake, said Cedar Lake boasts good schools, affordable housing with space to build more, lower tax rate, proximity to Chicago, and safety.

But with growth, Niemeyer said, comes a balancing act of having enough services and infrastructure to support the current population while preparing for more residents. With the continued growth in Cedar Lake, the town will have to expand its infrastructure over the next decade, he said.

“It’s handling what’s there now with the next wave, whenever that comes, there will have to be significant investment,” Niemeyer said.

In Lowell, the population increased from 11,123 residents to 11,239 residents between 2022 and 2023, according to the federal data.

Crown Point saw a population increase from 34,536 in 2022 to 34,884 in 2023, while Merrillville saw a population increase from 36,233 in 2022 to 36,347 in 2023, according to the estimates.

The Crown Point Building Department issued 111 permits for new single family homes and 279 miscellaneous residential permits, including remodels, decks, pools and sheds, in 2023, according to department data.

Crown Point Mayor Pete Land said people are moving to the city because it is safe and has a good school system. In addition, the city also offers quality-of-life elements, like concerts or sporting events at facilities like Bulldog Park, that people enjoy, he said.

Additionally, Franciscan Health Crown Point relocated in January to a new, larger facility at I-65 and U.S. 231 in January, and the University of Chicago opened its first multispecialty center in Indiana in Crown Point last month — two moves linked to healthcare providers seeing increased demand in the southern part of the county.

“It’s a good mixture of all of those that make Crown Point a desirable place to relocate to,” Land said.

The city is continuing to welcome growth with a mixture of residential, commercial and industrial properties, Land said.

“Smart growth, I call it,” Land said. “We want a nice blend of development.”

As the city grows, Land said officials have been mindful to expand and maintain the waterway infrastructure.

“It’s really what’s underground that supports what’s going on above ground,” Land said.

Northern Lake County saw some declines in population, continuing recent trends.

Hammond, Northwest Indiana’s most populous city, saw a decrease from 76,576 residents in 2022 to 76,193 residents in 2023, while Gary saw a decrease from 67,977 residents to 67,652 residents, according to the data.

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott said he hasn’t looked at the most recent census estimates, but he would venture to guess it is off by about 10%.

Every 10 years, the census bureau sends people into communities to knock on doors and do a genuine population count, McDermott said. In the years between, the office does estimates using formulas, he said, so the count isn’t as accurate as the decade counts.

“These once-a-decade counts are very accurate,” McDermott said. “The U.S. Census estimates have been wrong about Hammond’s population since the 1990s, and I am sure they are wrong again.”

Gary Mayor Eddie Melton said in a statement that since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic leaders around the country have questioned the accuracy of the census data. Challenges in data collection and a lack of trust in government may lead to a possible undercount in communities like Gary, he said.

Under Gary Police Department Chief Derrick Cannon, the city has seen improvements in public safety metrics, Melton said. New investments in transportation are also improving access to Chicago and attracting new residents and opportunities, Melton said.

Additionally, as the cost of living continues to rise, Gary is poised to offer affordable living and access to outdoor amenities that other communities don’t have, Melton said.

“The Melton Administration is working hard to make Gary an even more attractive and appealing destination for new and current residents and businesses,” Melton said. “My administration is laser-focused on stabilizing our neighborhoods, eliminating blight, and creating more high-quality housing and jobs.”

Munster saw a decrease from 23,664 residents in 2022 to 23,614 residents in 2023, while East Chicago saw a decrease from 25,971 residents to 25,830 residents in 2023, according to the data.

In Porter County, Portage saw an increase of nearly 200 residents from 38,340 residents in 2022 to 38,513 residents in 2023.

Portage Mayor Austin Bonta said people are moving to Portage from Illinois for its public safety, school system and location. Portage is close enough for workers to commute to Chicago and other major Northwest Indiana cities using I-94 or I-90, he said.

“We have that right mix of safe city, commuter distance, and I think the schools play a big role as well,” Bonta said.

To capture future growth, Bonta said subdivisions, like Deer Creek, have started expanding and city officials are considering a number of commercial and industrial businesses to move to the area, Bonta said. Another important element of future expansion, he said, is maintaining public safety and the sanitary system.

“We’re not just making improvements for now, but we’re thinking of growth,” Bonta said.

Census researchers say the phenomenon of people working remotely and deciding to move from cities and suburbs to outer suburbs during the COVID-19 pandemic may still be affecting population shifts.

In Valparaiso, the population increased from 34,575 residents in 2022 to 34,627 residents in 2023, according to the data.

During his State of the City address in January, held at the recently opened Journeyman Distillery, Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas said the town expected to see two notable projects completed this year: the LINC apartment development and the Grand Gardner Hotel.

“Valparaiso continues to grow and mature in countless ways in our quest to provide a quality of life that our citizens deserve, and our peers admire. Today’s venue is a symbol of the bold transformation that has occurred in our city over the last 20 years. Seven years ago, this was an abandoned blighted industrial relic,” Costas said of the former woolen mill that dates from the 1860s.

Chesterton saw a population increase from 14,560 residents in 2022 to 14,657 residents in 2023, according to the data.

Chesterton Town Manager David Cincoski said the town has historically seen a growth in population. What has helped population growth, he said, was the recent completion of the South Shore Line double tracking project, the school system and the small-town feel, he said.

Cincoski said he’s talked to new residents who have told him they moved to Chesterton from Illinois.

“In their case, it’s going to be a combination of lower taxes and more affordable housing for them,” Cincoski said.

The Chicago Tribune contributed.