Editorial: Time to reverse a troubling population trend in Ely

The once every 10-year count is complete, and once again the U.S. Census shows that Ely has fewer people living here than it did a decade prior.
How many fewer? 251, according to the 2020 Census numbers reviewed by the city council on Tuesday night.
That brings Ely’s current population down to 3,209. While a seven percent drop may not be ominous on its own, it’s part of a more disturbing long-term trend that should make anyone concerned about the health of our community.
In 1990, just over 30 years ago, population in Ely was just a shade under 4,000. It dipped to roughly 3,700 by 2000 and again to 3,460 in the 2010 census.
Take another 251 people away this time around and we’re just a shade over 3,200.
What does this portend for Ely’s future?
Will we slide under 3,000 by the time 2030 rolls around? That’s the direction we are heading.
And when, if ever, does it bottom out? At 3,000? 2,500? 2,000?
There are many among us who remember a time when Ely had over 5,000 people. Anyone around in the 1970s will remember that.
Fewer people mean fewer kids in our schools, fewer opportunities for those kids and a school infrastructure being supported by fewer people paying taxes.
The same goes for city services. The roads need to be plowed and our streets and sidewalks and infrastructure need to be maintained whether there are 2,500 or 4,000 residents. Fewer people mean the bill is higher for all of us.
Ely isn’t unique in this regard. Many rural communities have seen declines in population as the years have gone by.
The easy conclusion to draw is that Ely is a dying town, but we don’t believe that for a minute and nor should anyone else.
Ely and the surrounding area have assets that make it an attractive draw - particularly in an age when more and more people can and do work from home.
Our lakes our way of life, our many events and organizations, our school and our college are just some of a few things that make the region a great place to live.
Challenges about, including a profound labor shortage and a lack of affordable housing. In addition to attracting those who can bring their jobs with them, our area as a whole continues to need more industry. Yes, more high-paying mining jobs are part of any scenario to reverse this troubling population trend.
Ely is not destined to perpetually shrink.
Population growth should be a priority, if not the top priority, the next time city officials discuss their economic development priorities.
The 2030 Census is just nine years away, and perhaps by then Ely will be back on the upswing when it comes to population. Our city’s long-term viability depends on it.