Officials remain optimistic about reversing population loss in the area, despite recent Census Bureau estimates that show a small decline in the number of people living in both Paducah and McCracken County between 2017 and 2018.
The estimated population of Paducah in 2018 is 24,850, down from 24,944 in 2017. McCracken County also experienced a slight decrease for the first time since 2014-2015, dipping from 65,397 in 2017 to 65,346 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"We recognize that it's a challenge," Paducah City Manager Jim Arndt said. "We don't shy away from that. That's why we're taking positive steps to ensure we reverse the trend."
Those steps include supporting infill development in the city limits, applying for and receiving Opportunity Zones designation from the state to incentivize development, and continuing partnerships with Greater Paducah Economic Development, Arndt said.
The city's new customer experience department, focused on helping people more easily access local government and navigate its permitting process, represents another effort to make the city more business-friendly, he said.
The city also plans on entering into a public-private partnership agreement with Partake in Paducah, which is already using social media, video and marketing to get the word out about Paducah, Arndt added.
"Long-term, we'd like to see Paducah at that 40,000, 50,000 level (in population)," he said. "It's important because you have to be able to provide sustainability and also quality of life for your residents. You want to make sure, as any healthy organism, (the city) is growing and changing."
City commissioners agreed on the importance of sparking growth in the area. Some highlighted the assets already present in Paducah, while others indicated they believe the solution lies in the future.
"The economy in the country and in Kentucky is booming. Jobs are being created and unemployment is the lowest in decades," Commissioner Gerald Watkins said, adding that educational opportunities, the presence of interstates and the river industry are all assets for the city. "Paducah is centrally located. We are within an eight-hour drive of 70 percent of the U.S. population."
Commissioner Richard Abraham offered a similar sentiment regarding Paducah's location.
"If you look at most western Kentucky cities, once you get off the interstate, you still have a 25- to 30-minute drive until you reach Hopkinsville, Owensboro, Madisonville. This is not true for Paducah," he said. "City and county officials are very aware of our population and where it currently stands. However, we do currently sit in the best location in western Kentucky to put into action ideas to offset a dip in our population."
One of those ideas, Watkins and Commissioner Brenda McElroy agree, is the creation of an indoor, regional recreation complex.
"I think one of the areas we are lacking behind on is our athletic facilities. I firmly believe big strides in that area will help us grow," McElroy said, adding she believes the city and county must work together to reverse the trend.
Mayor Brandi Harless did not return requests for comment.
The decrease in the county's estimated population isn't as great as the city's, and McCracken County Judge-Executive Craig Clymer said that while it's a high priority to have people working in the county, seeing a growth in residents isn't at the top of his list.
"We're certainly spending a lot of time and effort, and some money, to try to bring jobs in," he said. "We're really interested in getting our recreational facilities."
Some officials have theories as to why the population hasn't grown -- lack of aggressive business recruitment chief among them -- but others were reluctant to hazard a guess. Several pointed to the upcoming 2020 Census as an opportunity to get a more accurate picture of the city and county population.
"I frequently have stated that our city feels to me like we have had a population increase because of all of the young professionals I see moving back," Commissioner Sandra Wilson said. "I hope when the Census is completed in 2020 we will see growth in our city and county's population. We have a great community to live and raise a family, and the more we can get that story out to those wanting to move here, the better."
The Census Bureau uses birth rates, death rates and migration data to formulate its yearly estimates. That organization states that births have been declining nationally since 2007, while deaths are on the rise. Kentucky's death rate in 2015, per Census Bureau data, was 924.7 (per 100,000 population), compared with the national rate of 733.
A large percentage of the population is aging, too, as the Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement age and beyond, the Census Bureau notes.