CONWAY — According to U.S. Census data, Conway's population dipped from 2010 to 2020, but Carroll County's population has gone up.
In 2010, Conway had 10,115 people, but in 2020 the town's population fell to 9,822.
Carroll County, meanwhile, went from 47,818 in 2010 to 50,107 in 2020.
University of New Hampshire Senior Demographer Kenneth Johnson said overall, the state’s population grew because 54,500 more people moved here than left, accounting for 89 percent of the state’s population gain.
In a report issued for the Carsey School of Public Policy, Johnson said there were also 6,500 more births than deaths statewide.
"In four counties, migration was the sole driver of population change as each had more deaths than births," said Johnson.
"For example, Carroll County is a recreational and amenity area that grew by attracting enough migrants from elsewhere in the Northeast to offset a substantial excess of deaths over births among its aging residents."
Several local officials said they were surprised by hearing of the decline in Conway's population.
Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes said the town seems busier than ever.
"I'd say that every department excluding welfare is up 25 to 40 percent, from people seeking building permits to sending emails to phone calls (to town staff)," said Holmes, who noted the Census data point was April 1, 2020, right at the height of the pandemic.
"I don't know if that had an impact or not. Maybe not many people are answering their door during the pandemic, I have no idea. I think we need more data," he said.
Holmes added that federal programs like Rural Development grants are for populations under 10,000, so dropping under that threshold is a positive in terms of applying for grants.
According to Conway Town Clerk Louise Inkell's office, the town as of Aug. 26 had 6,427 registered voters.
Brenda Leavitt of Badger Realty of North Conway, Jackson and Berlin said one factor behind the drop may be the outflow of young workers, because the town does not offer higher-paying, non-tourism jobs, and due to the lack of zoning to enable affordable housing.
At the other end of the spectrum, senior adults have moved outside the region due to a lack of assisted living senior facilities, Leavitt noted.
"We really fall short in terms of bringing certain (non-tourism) types of business here," said Leavitt. "We are building and selling a lot of properties to 30-somethings from the Boston area because they can afford to buy a second home property here. And they can come here for long weekends."
Greydon Turner of Pinkham Real Estate of North Conway said people ought to consider that the period from 2010-11 was a good buyer's market and that 2011 was especially so, given the downturn in the economy.
He added that people may have moved out of Conway to surrounding towns because of lower prices. Like Leavitt, he said the town needs to do more to make affordable housing more viable such as allowing greater density in areas served by municipal water and sewer.
"Without the scope of more data we don't know what is happening — but for Conway's population to fall, it tells me that maybe we need to look at our ordinances and zoning regarding allowing more housing," said Turner.
Kevin Richard, school superintendent of SAU 9, said enrollment has "dropped considerably" over the 10-year period.
"We have a real volatile enrollment," Richard told the Sun on Thursday. "It's no surprise that during the pandemic we had a lot of second-home owners move in to enroll their children here — that's no surprise. But we also have had a lot of younger families moving out because they say they cannot afford to stay here.
"When people say can't you project out, we say we can't project out too far as it's hard for us given the situation," Richard said. "If we were to put in for more affordable housing, then maybe more families could stay here and we could see a spike in enrollment."
He said the student population is transient in the elementary schools.
"Jackson's enrollment is very stable," said Richard, "but in Conway only about 50 percent stay in one school K-6 and in (Kennett Middle School), it's it's only about 30 percent. So there's a lot of moving round from the towns. In high school, if someone moves from one town to another, it doesn't matter because we count the one-school population."
Since 1790, the U.S. Census Bureau has been required by the Constitution to conduct its national census every 10 years. Census data is used for determining $1.7 trillion in federal grants for rural areas, highway construction and planning, rural payment assistance and water and waste disposal systems for rural areas.
Census figures are also used to determine political representation and to ensure that representation is based on accurate census figures. A 15-member House committee that includes eight Republican and seven Democratic members, will draw the 424 state House districts. The state Senate committee has not been selected yet.
— Daymond Steer contributed to this story.