A multitude of factors combined in the past two decades to make Union County the third fastest growing county in the state, county leaders said, and will have an effect on Union County's trajectory for decades to come.

A multitude of factors combined in the past two decades to make Union County the third fastest growing county in the state, county leaders said, and will have an effect on Union County's trajectory for decades to come.

According to figures published recently by the Ohio Department of Development, Union County grew 53 percent in population between 1990 and 2009, making it the third fastest growing county in Ohio, behind Delaware and Warren counties. The figures also predict that Union County will grow from its estimated 2009 population of 48,903 to more than 64,000 by the year 2020.

Union County Chamber of Commerce CEO Eric Phillips said that a number of factors have contributed to the county's growth from 31,970 residents in 1990 to today's population of nearly 50,000.

"I think it shows that our county continues to be attractive for people to locate and live here, but you also can see that some of those figures project through 2020, which shows that the Department of Development realizes Union County should see more of that growth as we move forward," Phillips said.

Phillips said the fact that the central Ohio region as a whole is growing contributes to the rising figures in Union County.

"My first response to that fact is that all of central Ohio is growing, and one reason people moving to the area are choosing Union County, I think they find lower taxes, arguably the best school districts in central Ohio, and several major employers such as Scotts and Honda, many companies that are really growing, and that's why people are moving here," Phillips said.

Although figures have slumped in recent years, possibly due to a slow economy, Union County has seen outside interest in building projects. According to the 2009 Economic Development Annual Report, Union County has approved building permits for more than 5,000 housing units and more than 500 commercial and industrial projects totaling more than $1-billion in investment in the past 11 years. Construction crews broke ground this year on Jerome Village, a 1,500-acre, mixed-use development that could take 15 years and millions of dollars to complete.

Local and county governments have worked to keep up with the increasing level of services needed for an increased population, county commissioner Gary Lee said.

"Several years ago, we put on the ballot to increase the county sales tax a quarter of a percent half of that was for senior services, but the other half was for road and bridge improvements," he said. "We were already aware at the time that we were growing rapidly, and our challenge has been to keep our roads and bridges in good shape so we can serve the public."

Lee said that infrastructure may have contributed to Union County's population increase.

"First and foremost we have the state Route 33 corridor, along with the fact that we're sitting just outside Franklin County," he said. "Between the highways and the railroad, we have an ideal situation that promotes Union County just through its own geographical location."

John Gore, who serves on the local level as Marysville city council president and for the county as Department of Job & Family Services director, said the city has been working to deal with those growing numbers in years to come.

"Obviously there's been a demand for an increase of services we just went through an increase in the municipal income tax, we didn't have enough funds to provide the growing need in safety services," he said. "But I would say that in a lot of ways, Marysville and Union County have been very fortunate to have the industrial base that we have. I think that even though the unemployment rate right now is close to 10 percent, we were fortunate in this community that we maintained a lot of the jobs that we did have. What we lost a lot of was the overtime hours and the temporary jobs and that's where I believe some of our unemployment figures went up."

Phillips also touched on one of the unquantifiable draws of Union County its small-town charm.

"You have great communities here - they're home towns. You can live here, and yet be close to the convenience of a large city," he said.

Phillips said the predicted number of 64,000 residents by 2020 might be a high estimate, however.

"That analysis was conducted in 2004, at a time when we were nearing about 600 single-family home permits a year," he said. "Right now in the economic crunch, we're back to about 150 permits a year. Unless there's a huge national rebound, I think those numbers are on the high end."

"I'm more concerned right now about the statewide perspective," Phillips continued. "Ohio is not growing at the rate of other states. While central Ohio may be growing, Ohio needs to continue that momentum, and that's something that needs to be addressed."

Ultimately, a thriving population in Union County can mean only good things, Phillips said.

"The more people that move here, the bigger our work force will be, which will make a better selection pool for our employers. Another thing that could hopefully happen is that the county can become more diverse, which is something that will benefit our county," he said. "We've been a secret for a long time, and we're not so much anymore."