Changes are in store for the Purchase because census data shows gains and losses in unexpected areas
West Kentucky is usually defined as those 18 counties west of Bowling Green, KY. For the purpose of this discussion, the far eight counties of the Jackson Purchase will be the primary study area.
This a power zone in America simply from the fact that four major rivers converge here. These counties are heavily agriculture in nature. Small towns are rural with Paducah, Mayfield, and Murray as major urban areas (populations over 8,000). The population extremes can range from 19 people per sq. mile in Hickman County (borders Mississippi River) to over 8,000 per sq. mile in McCracken County (borders Ohio River).
Census data is taken very seriously by community leaders and politicians. Redistricting begins to take shape as the numbers become available.
A caveat that should be taken into account (but probably won't be) is the conditions during the 2020 census. The pandemic was raging. The White House was trying to limit those who could respond to the census. In every community, especially those with minority populations, efforts to hold down numbers were under way. Historians will look back on the 2020 census as one to be taken with a grain of salt.
Ballard County lost 6% of its population but the small community of Kevil almost doubled in size. Kevil is the closest Ballard County town to McCracken County. The four lane highway that begins near the county line has helped growth as has the new McCracken County High School. Businesses like Menards are more easily accessed from Kevil than from downtown Paducah.
The county, made up of a string of small towns beginning with Wickliffe to the south and Kevil to the north, no longer has a town of over 1000 people. Ballard has struggled since losing thousands of good jobs when the paper mill closed. It has since reopened but isn't union so wages aren't what they were.
Calloway County, home to Murray State University, was stagnant for growth. The county may have reached a stall for growth of business and industry at 37,191. The towns of Murray, New Concord, and Hazel all lost population. Only Almo grew, adding 53 to the census over ten years.
Murray, the county seat, lost 450. It has to be a factor that the University lost 1000 students between 2010 and 2020. A town and gown city suffers when the student population drops. Over ten years, a portion of those enrolled are not on campus but use distance learning to earn degrees.
Carlisle County also lost population with no towns gaining population. Carlisle also made up of little towns with populations under 1000. Highly mechanized row crop farms dominate the economy.
Fulton County would appear to sit in the catbird seat for economic development advantages. It has two towns, Hickman the county seat, is on the Mississippi River and is home to a river port and a ferry. Fulton which boasts the only east west passenger rail station in Kentucky and is on I-69. Fulton lost 3.6% population and Hickman 1.25%
Graves County with 37,028 in 2020 saw a small drop in population from 36,649 for a loss of 1.3%. Mayfield, the county seat, saw census number barely change. Hickory, a few miles from Mayfield grew by 18%. Business and industry is building out toward McCracken. The four lane highway, with a mostly 65 mph, has been a boon for Hickory. Fancy Farm grew by 28%, adding 130 new residents to the tiny community dominated by St. Jerome's Catholic Church. Sedalia, a four way stop with churches and a post office welcomed 138 new residents. Population was lost in Farmington, Water Valley and Wingo which may see growth in 2030 as new growth corridor develops away from the town center.
Hickman County went from 4902 in 2010 to 4521, a loss of 7.8% as Kentucky's second smallest county. Robertson County with half the land mass of Hickman remains the smallest with 2200 in the county. Clinton, the county seat, fell by 12% losing 116 in the 2020 census. Columbus, on the Mississippi River, fell from 170 to 140 in 2020. Like Carlisle County, Hickman County is dependent on agribusiness which uses lots of machines but not as many laborers as once populated the county.
Marshall County grew from 31,448 to 31,659 in 2020. The tiny increase of .7% was enough to put Marshall in positive territory. Benton, the county seat, grew by almost 10%. Calvert City lost 52 to shrink by 2.03%.
McCracken County with 65,565 residents, is by far the most populous county in the Purchase. It grew by over 2000 residents between 2010 and 2020. Paducah went from 25,000 residents to 27,000. The county has become a center for higher education with West Kentucky Community and Technical College and a branch of Murray State. Draws like the Curris Center, the MAQS Quilt Festival and other festivals have drawn business looking for things to do for their employees. McCracken has ambitious plans to expand.