Despite the drag of a down economy, the gears of Douglas County growth turned a little faster in 2008, according to new population estimates from the Census Bureau.
Douglas County’s total population from July 2007 to July 2008 reached 114,748 people, growing by 1,348 people during the 12-month period. That was good for a 1.2 percent growth rate, which outpaced the statewide average of 0.9 percent.
Both the number of new people and the percentage growth rate were at their highest levels since 2005.
“I think this shows that we never experienced the complete meltdown that other parts of the country saw,” said Lawrence Mayor Mike Dever. “I think we’re holding our own in a time when many areas are seeing dramatic downturns.”
In terms of total people added, Douglas County ranked sixth out of the 105 counties in the state. In terms of percentage population growth, the Douglas County rate was the 11th highest in the state.
The Census report did not provide population estimates for each city in the county. Those numbers will be released this summer.
Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said at first the results were somewhat surprising, but said upon further reflection the numbers may be a sign that more people were looking to live in an area with some stability.
“When you look closer at the underlying numbers, our housing values haven’t gone down anywhere near as much as the national average, and our sales tax dollars haven’t gone down anywhere near as much as the national average,” Weinaug said. “When you put it into perspective with what is going on elsewhere, you can see how we may have added some population.”
But the growth in population came at the same time that other government statistics have shown Douglas County’s job market on the decline. As previously reported, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that Douglas County has experienced seven consecutive months — December 2007 through June 2008 — of “year-over-year” job losses. The numbers also showed that Douglas County was losing jobs at a rate faster than the state as a whole.
The job numbers for the second half of 2008 haven’t yet been released.
“The job losses are a fact,” Dever said. “Those have been obvious and clear.”
But Dever said he thought there was some reason to think that Lawrence and Douglas County would see signs of a recovery before other communities.
“In talking with businesses, I think we were ahead of the curve a bit in terms of getting hit by this downturn,” Dever said. “And if it hits you earlier, I think you should come out of it a little earlier.”
The Census report also provided information on how Douglas County’s growth rate since 2000 compares with other counties. Douglas County has increased population by 14 percent or about 14,000 people since 2000. That ranks the county as the second fastest growing county in the state, behind Johnson County.
But those numbers do include a major challenge. The Census added 8,605 people to Douglas County’s total in 2005 after the city challenged the population estimate based on building permit totals. Without that challenge — which some in the community questioned — the county’s growth rate would have dropped to about 6 percent, or 11th fastest in the state.