Louisville’s population is projected to grow to 875,459 people by 2040 — but that’s not good enough, said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, the city’s economic development chief.

“We’re not growing fast enough,” Wiederwohl told real estate professionals at the annual Real Estate Economic Outlook event Tuesday. “If we don’t accelerate our growth beyond what’s projected, we are going to slip in the ratings.”

Greater Louisville Inc. created a chart looking at projected total population growth and where the city hopes to be. | Courtesy of Louisville Forward

In order to remain in the top 30 most populous U.S. cities, she said, Louisville-Jefferson County Metro’s population needs to exceed one million people. A key to meeting that benchmark is foreign-born residents, Wiederwohl said, adding that 6.7 percent of the city’s population are immigrants and that they are twice as likely to start their own business.

“If you took out all that foreign-born growth, we would have declined in population over the last 10 years,” she said. “We’re just not growing enough naturally, and we aren’t attracting enough folks from other places.”

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl | File Photo

In an effort to attract new residents, the city is focused on building new parks, making it easier for commuters to use multiple modes of transportation and supporting development projects such as new bourbon experiences.

“Placemaking becomes this common thread in talent attraction,” Wiederwohl said. “You want to have a place where these wonderful millennials and others want to live.”

Louisville officials are banking on aspects such as bourbon, music festivals and the food scene to draw in younger residents to the city. Compared with its peers, Louisville is a slightly older city. Its median age is 37, whereas Indianapolis and Nashville both have a median age of 34, according to U.S. Census data.

That’s where foreign-born residents come in as well.

“Our foreign-born population is much more likely to be age 25 to 44; what do we need more of in our workforce, 25- to 44-year-olds,” she said. “So when you’re having trouble finding employees, it’s not just you. We don’t have enough folks here who meet that definition.”

Construction, agriculture, manufacturing, arts and entertainment, and hospitality are among the top industries that foreign-born residents work in, Wiederwohl said.

Greater Louisville Inc. created a chart looking at projected foreign-born population growth and where the city hopes to be. | Courtesy of Louisville Forward

In the 1990s, immigrants to Louisville represented 49 percent of Jefferson County’s total population growth, according to a study by the Urban Institute. The study indicated that the population of foreign-born residents was increasing rapidly.

“We want to keep our trend line going up,” Wiederwohl said.

While national policies will impact that, she said, there are a number of local efforts including Live In Lou and the Global Louisville Action Plan that help welcome immigrants.

Another selling point for the city is the fact that any given quarter, there are more than 30,000 available jobs in Louisville, and about one-third require some level of college education, Wiederwohl said. Those are jobs that could be filled by immigrants or “boomerangers,” that is to say Lousiville natives who left but return to settle down.