Matt Crawley is exactly the kind of guy who comes to mind when you think about population in Western New York.
The 26-year-old Kenmore native wants to live in Buffalo. He loves the mom-and-pop feel of the city, the local restaurants, the fact that most of his friends are still here.
But he lives in Winterhaven, Fla.
“It’s just the culture here,” said Crawley, explaining why he’d rather be in Buffalo. “From what I’ve experienced – I know I’m young – but where I’m at in Florida, it’s nothing like it.”
Crawley earned a master’s degree back in May from Canisius College. He spent some time in Colorado for an internship, then packed up and headed straight to Florida to work as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach.
He designs workout programs for college sports teams, and at the time he was looking, there wasn’t work for Crawley in Western New York.
It’s the type of story that seemed to define Buffalo 10 years ago – so much so that an entire festival popped up with the aim of convincing the city’s ex-pats to move back.
Then there’s Terrence Palumbo, a 23-year-old roofer. He’s from Dallas. Five years ago, he followed family here. He doesn’t particularly like the cold, but he’s happy to call Buffalo home.
“I like that it’s very cultural and diverse,” Palumbo said. “There’s a lot of different people that live here. I like that there’s a lot of different things that you can do on a regular night.”
You can’t view Crawley’s story, the one that says young people don’t stay in Buffalo, without thinking about Palumbo’s: the narrative that people really do move to Western New York.
We all know that Buffalo has bled people and that residents – especially young people looking for jobs – have left. Erie County’s population dipped 3.3 percent between 2000 and 2010, as 31,211 fewer people lived in the county by the end of the decade.
But there are signs that could be changing. Census estimates that track population changes between the decennial counts peg the county’s population as virtually flat since 2010. It may be too early to call it a trend, but it’s awfully encouraging after years of losses.
And what’s even more interesting is where Erie County falls when you compare it with the 3,143 other counties in which the census tracks population.
More than half of the counties are estimated to have had bigger population losses than Erie County since 2010. While there are plenty of places that are seeing growth, there are plenty more that may be worse off than here.
We’re a long way from tiny McKenzie County, N.D., whose small population saw a 25 percent increase over that time as oil fueled growth and brought its own set of municipal restructuring challenges. But we’re also not at the bottom of the pack – even if you look at just the largest counties.
It’s not that the population outlook is completely rosy for Erie County. Years of people moving out have taken a toll on whole neighborhoods and made this a poorer, older region.
But there’s also hope that the region is beginning to stabilize.
Crawley still has hope he may one day make it back to Buffalo. He’s in the type of field in which you’ve got to go where the jobs are – and he sees potential in Western New York, once he builds up more experience.
He might just have a future here.
People really do move to Western New York.