When 77 Kansas counties saw their populations decline in the last decade, population increases of about 10 percent in Lawrence and Douglas County don’t look too bad.
Nonetheless the local increases represent the lowest population gains since the Great Depression. That may not be cause for alarm, but it’s something local officials shouldn’t accept too easily.
Figures released last week from the 2010 U.S. Census showed that Douglas County’s population had grown by 10.9 percent to 110,826; Lawrence’s population stood at 87,643, an increase of 9.4 for the decade. Both of those figures were well above the state’s overall population growth of 6.1 percent.
In general, the bigger counties in Kansas got bigger and the smaller, rural counties got smaller in the 2010 count. Twenty-three Kansas counties lost more than 10 percent of their population in the last decade. Douglas County was one of only nine counties with population gains of more than 10 percent. All of those counties are grouped around the state’s largest population centers in Wichita and northeast Kansas.
Johnson County grew by 20 percent and remained the state’s largest county, but another notable growth area was in the three-county area that includes Manhattan and Fort Riley. Geary County was the fastest-growing county in the state at 23 percent; its neighbors, Riley and Pottawatomie counties, recorded growth of 13.6 percent and 18.6 percent, respectively.
Lawrence and Douglas County officials were looking at the bright side of the new Census figures. County Administrator Craig Weinaug said he was “very happy with” the 1 percent annual growth rate. Mayor Mike Amyx said every community sees ups and downs in population cycles and Lawrence was fortunate to still be growing.
City Manager David Corliss noted that accurate population figures are important to a variety of planning and infrastructure decisions facing the city. The city needs to be realistic about its population projections but it also must take the right steps to encourage continued growth.
The new Census figures provide ample evidence of how important some level of growth is to a community’s vitality and economic well being. Many Kansas communities would be more than happy to accept the news Lawrence and Douglas County received from the Census Bureau last week, but local officials shouldn’t take growth, or its accompanying benefits, for granted. In fact, they should aim for an even greater increase by 2020.