Franklin County has moved into the top spot as Ohio's most-populous county, but Delaware County has lost its crown as the state's fastest-growing county after years of dominance.
Union County now tops Delaware County's growth rate, with the latter dropping to second place with a 1.85 percent increase last year, according to population estimates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
It added 3,579 residents to its population of about 196,000 during that time.
Losing bragging rights to Union County was inevitable, said Bob Lamb, Delaware County's economic-development director, noting that Union County's population of about 55,000 is much lower and therefore its growth rate is higher.
"You have to give them a lot of credit ... for making new investments to attract new residents," he said.
Delaware County's southern townships of Liberty and Orange continue to fuel the growth with development, along with extensions of water and sewer lines for future growth along the Interstate 71 corridor from Polaris Fashion Place to the Sunbury area.
"What we see is positive growth," Lamb said.
Meanwhile, Franklin County's continued growth contrasts with the decades-long collapse of the Cleveland manufacturing economy that once dominated the state.
Cuyahoga County shed 5,673 residents last year, while Franklin added 14,249, according to the census bureau's estimates.
In 1968, when Cuyahoga County's population peaked at 1.77 million, it had more than twice the population of Franklin County. But by last year, Cuyahoga had dropped to 1.25 million.
Franklin's growth has been steady rather than explosive, first topping 1 million in 1993 and increasing by about 100,000 each decade. Sometime last year, as many had predicted, Franklin edged past Cuyahoga when it hit 1.26 million residents, according to bureau estimates.
Columbus' "secret sauce" is being a state capital with a major university, said Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics.
"On the other hand, when you look at Cuyahoga County, despite the fish tales told by the governor about his economic-growth miracle, Ohio in general continues to underperform the rest of the country," Mayland said.
Much of the growth nationally remains in states such as Florida and Texas, he said, which were in the top 10 nationally for growth rate. Ohio is 40th. The estimates for metro areas nationally placed Cleveland and Columbus' multicounty metro areas as the 32nd and 33rd largest, respectively, in 2016, down one spot each from 2015. That's because the fast-growing Austin, Texas, metro area leapfrogged both cities to the No. 31 spot.
While Ohio grew by more than 9,000 residents, almost two-thirds of the state's 88 counties got smaller last year by a combined 25,697 people. Of the 28 counties that gained people, six central Ohio counties -- Franklin, Delaware, Pickaway, Union, Fairfield and Licking -- accounted for 22,274 of that, or about 64 percent. Madison was the only central Ohio county to decrease, losing 684 residents, according to the census estimates.
"It's not surprising," economist Bill LaFayette, of Regionomics, said of Columbus' rise.
While people are free to move anywhere, they typically can't stay there without a job, Lafayette said. The Cleveland economy is more heavily reliant on manufacturing jobs than the average U.S. city, Layfayette has calculated, while Columbus relies less on manufacturing jobs than the average city. As the manufacturing sector suffered after 2007, that meant more pain for Cuyahoga County.
Meanwhile, the number of health-care and education jobs grew by 18 percent in the Columbus area between 2010 and 2015, compared with only 4.5 percent in the Cleveland area, he said.
In 1995, General Motors and Ford were the No. 1 and No. 2 employers in Ohio, with a total workforce of 87,200, according to the state Department of Development. Honda was No. 15 with 10,600 workers.
Honda is bigger today, the 14th-largest employer in the state with 14,300 workers, while GM and Ford have shed 81 percent of their Ohio workforce.
That trend is no doubt helping Union County, home to a major Honda manufacturing operation. Union was the state's fastest-growing county on a percentage basis, adding 2.1 percent to its population from 2015 to 2016.
"As they grow, we continue to grow," Jason Stanford, development services manager for the Union County Economic Development Partnership, said of Honda.
Honda's growth has a spillover effect, with new parts suppliers locating in the area, along with motels, restaurants and other businesses.
"It's almost difficult to find housing. Our housing stock is very low," said Stanford.
Many of the 1,142 new Union County residents likely are moving to southeastern Union County from Franklin County in search of new homes on affordable land. Jerome Village in the extreme southeast corner of the county continues to expand with more than 2,200 homes in the next few years, which Stanford said will be "an entirely new city once it's built out." Already, several hundred are occupied.
The future of Columbus calls for more growth, Lafayette said. Projections show it adding up to 1 million more people over the next three decades, and "the projections have historically been low," he said.