Pennsylvania is one of the big states that, like California and New York, is losing population. Part of the reason is the Delaware Valley, where Philadelphia lost more than 20,000 residents last year and a similar number the year before. Bucks and Delaware Counties lost population last year, too, while Montgomery County picked up a negligible 661 residents.
But in Chester County, it is a very different story. It is the top area for growth in the Delaware Valley, growing by nearly 5,000 people from 2021 to 2022.
What makes Chester County so different from the region and the state as a whole?
“I think the diversity of the economy is one of the benefits, for decades,” said Guy Ciarrocchi, former president of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry. Chester County has agriculture, biopharma, life sciences, manufacturing, technology, and finance, with Vanguard as its largest employer.
And pharmaceutical and technology jobs have attracted many Asian and South Asian immigrants over the last few years. He said those immigrants have, in turn, brought their extended families to the area.
“We’re becoming a much more diverse ethnic community,” said Ciarrocchi. “The fastest growing portions of our community are Asians and Hispanics.
“Those communities have doubled since 2000 and are over 15 percent of the population,” Ciarrocchi continued. “So you take a growing economy, a community that has welcomed folks from India and China. It’s the same way the Italians came 100 years ago to work on the railroads… We’re growing and diverse, and I think it’s great.”
Brian O’Leary, executive director of the Chester County Planning Commission, summed it up in one word: Housing. He said new housing developments “came online” in West Whiteland, Exton, West Goshen, and Downingtown.
And it doesn’t hurt that Chesterbrook was just named the nation’s number-one neighborhood for the fourth year in a row.
Another positive is there were 1,500 more births than deaths in the county in that period.
Ben Gruswitz, manager of socioeconomic and land use analytics with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, cautioned not to read too much into the Census Bureau numbers, which are only estimates and are likely to be revised.
“I don’t put a whole lot of trust in this data,” he said.
And Ciarrocchi noted some warning signs for the future. Losing Brandywine Hospital and Jennersville Hospital closing and coming back as a hybrid might cause some people to have second thoughts about moving to Chester County.
“You may not see the growth you were seeing before if people realize the closest hospital is 30 minutes away or 40 minutes instead of 15,” he said.
Still, Gruswitz said, Chester County is an attractive area, with “a lot of land preserved” as open space. And even if people move into multi-family housing, they can take advantage of the open space. “You can be in some of these denser communities and still have access to open spaces, even if you’re not living in the most rural area of Chester County,” he said.
The question, says Ciarrocchi, a Republican who ran for Congress last year, is whether political leaders and policymakers can resist taking action and instead take a hands-off approach to Chester County.
“Politicians in office now ought to think long and hard about doing anything to upset the apple cart,” said Ciarrocchi. “This is where people want to come.”
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