Douglas County still grew in the difficult decade of the 2000s, but it did so at its slowest rate since the days of the Great Depression, according to the official Census population totals released on Thursday.
Douglas County’s 2010 population stood at 110,826 people, a gain of 10,864 people since 2000. That’s a growth rate of 10.9 percent. Lawrence’s population grew slightly slower to a total of 87,643 people, an increase of 7,545 people. That’s a growth rate of 9.4 percent for the decade.
Douglas County was one of only 28 counties in the state that saw a population increase, but its rate of growth — which averaged out at about 1 percent a year — was about half as fast as the community grew in the 1980s and 1990s.
Local leaders on Thursday largely were choosing to focus on the fact that the county had kept growing even during a serious economic downturn.
“I’m very comfortable with a 1 percent growth rate,” said Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug. “It is not only something I can live with, but be very happy with.”
‘Growing the best’
Community leaders largely were expecting growth numbers to slow from past levels. Single-family home construction in Lawrence has fallen from more than 300 homes a year to less than 100 in several of the past years.
But the size of the slowdown did create some surprise. The city’s Planning Department makes annual estimates about the city’s population. Its most recent estimate pegged the city’s population at 91,464 people — or about 3,800 more people than the Census Bureau counts for the city. City planners estimated that the city topped the 87,000 mark in 2005.
The Census Bureau also previously had released population estimates showing the city above 90,000 people. But those figures were based on estimates and formulas. The Census numbers are based on an actual count.
City Manager David Corliss said it was important for the city to get a handle on how many people lived in the community and its growth rate.
“The numbers are very important as we look at our infrastructure needs, as we look at the need for a new wastewater plant, and as we look at transportation planning,” Corliss said.
The numbers also play a role in how much federal funding is allocated to the city. Corliss said the city will review the Census data in more detail to determine if planners agree with the Census’ numbers.
“It could very well cause us to change some thinking, but we’re going to have to look and see what it all means,” Corliss said. “We do believe growth is important, but it is not a race where the fastest growing wins some sort of prize. It is who is growing the best.”
‘Ups and downs’
The big question for leaders likely will be whether the community ever will return to the days of 2 percent growth per year or whether this slower growth is the new reality for the long term.
On Thursday, they weren’t sure.
“When you really stop and consider the amount of growth we had before in the past few decades, it was truly substantial,” said Mayor Mike Amyx. “The thing that happens is everybody sees ups and downs and goes through cycles. I think that is what we have seen here. On the positive side, we’re still seeing an increase. That is really important.”
Other facts and figures from the Census:
• Douglas County’s growth rate was well above the statewide growth rate of 6.1 percent for the decade. Kansas has 2,853,118 people.
• Lawrence continues to be the sixth largest city in the state. The other nine largest cities in the state and their growth rates are: Wichita, 382,368 (11.1 percent); Overland Park, 173,372 (16.3 percent); Kansas City, 145,786 (down 0.7 percent); Topeka, 127,473 (4.2 percent); Olathe, 125,872 (35.4 percent); Shawnee, 62,209 (29.6 percent); Manhattan, 52,281 (16.6 percent); Lenexa, 48,190 (19.8 percent); and Salina, 47,707 (4.4 percent).
• Douglas County continues to be the fifth largest county in the state. Johnson County overtook Sedgwick County to become the largest county in the state.
• Douglas County’s growth rates by the decades have been: 1890s, 4.7 percent; 1900s, decline of 1.4 percent; 1910s, decline of 2.9 percent; 1920s, 4.7 percent; 1930s, 0.1 percent; 1940s, 35.4 percent; 1950s, 28.2 percent; 1960s, 32.5 percent; 1970s, 16.7 percent; 1980s, 20.9 percent; 1990s, 22.2 percent; 2000s, 10.9 percent.
• Of the 20 largest cities in the state, Lawrence’s growth rate was the 10th highest. Five of the 20 largest cities saw declines in population — Kansas City, Leavenworth, Garden City, Emporia and Prairie Village.