Lawrence’s population grows to more than 96K in 2023; a look at a few surprising trends, plus area totals

photo by: Shawn Valverde/Special to the Journal-World

Downtown Lawrence, looking north, is pictured in this aerial photo from September 2023. South Park is at the bottom of the photo. The Judicial and Law Enforcement Center is the large beige building at right.

Douglas County — compared with most of Kansas — is still a growth machine. But its fastest turning wheel last year was not Lawrence.

In fact, in 2023, Lawrence had the slowest growth rate of any city or town in Douglas County, according to new population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Baldwin City, Eudora and Lecompton all posted growth rates that were higher than Lawrence’s for the one-year period, which ran from July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023. In other words, all those towns saw their populations increase by a larger percentage than Lawrence did.

Lawrence, though, still was the Douglas County city that added the highest number of new people to its population. Lawrence continues to be the most powerful magnet to the county, in terms of raw numbers.

But, it is worth noting that the latest Census numbers show that all four of Douglas County’s communities are magnets to some degree. All four of them posted population growth in 2023, and that definitely was not the norm statewide. Across the state, 169 communities posted population growth, while 340 communities posted population declines. In terms of how many counties had each of their communities post population gains, that would require more digging than my shovel will allow, but I can tell you that even prosperous Johnson County can’t make that claim. More on that in a moment, but first, here’s a look at some basic numbers for the Douglas County communities.

• Baldwin City: 4,929 people, up 22 or 0.45%

• Eudora: 6,466 people, up 34 or 0.53%

• Lawrence: 96,207 people, up 376 or 0.39%

• Lecompton: 595 people, up 3 or 0.51%

(Before we get too far, yes, Lawrence’s numbers largely include its KU student population. The Census Bureau counts people where they live the majority of the year.)

When you look back to 2020, all four Douglas County communities have posted population growth over that three-year period. Here’s a look at those numbers.

• Baldwin City: up 109 people or 2.26%

• Eudora: up 56 people or 0.87%

• Lawrence: up 1,276 people or 1.34%

• Lecompton: up 3 people or 0.51%

One quick takeaway from the Douglas County numbers: Everybody has population growth that is better than average, but nobody is in the midst of a population boom. In 2023, I would say there were five notable cities that were either in a boom or were boom-adjacent. Three of them aren’t far away from us.

Gardner, in southern Johnson County, added 1,182 people for a growth rate of 4.89%. That town, which has BNSF’s large intermodal rail hub and a ton of distribution centers as neighbors, is now greater than 25,000 people in size. In 2000 — well before the rail hub came to be — Gardner’s population was just more than 9,300 people. Ten or 20 years from now, will we look at nearby De Soto — home to the under-construction Panasonic electric vehicle battery plant — and see the same type of population growth? That’s unclear, but is one of the more intriguing questions facing the region.

As for the other nearby towns that are posting boom-like numbers: Spring Hill, in Johnson/Miami counties, added 461 people for a growth rate of 5%; and Tonganoxie, in Leavenworth County, added 252 people for a growth rate of 4.31%. Since 2020, Tonganoxie has grown from a community of about 5,500 people to one that is a little more than 6,100 people.

The other two towns that are a bit frothy are both in suburban Wichita: Bel Aire added 718 people to grow to 9,537, a growth rate of 8.14%; and Maize, population 6,802 added 403 people for a growth rate of 6.3%.

Here are some other notes from the latest Census numbers:

• I noted strong growth in two Johnson County communities — Gardner and Spring Hill — but in some ways their fellow JoCo community of Olathe might be the most interesting community to watch in the state. Olathe added 1,884 people in 2023, a growth rate of 1.29%. Since 2020, Olathe has far and away added more people than any city in the state. It has added 5,875 people since 2020. The next closest community is Shawnee with 1,971. In other words, Olathe is the big city that is most in growth mode in Kansas. It will be interesting to watch whether that trends continues, accelerates or burns itself out as Panasonic locates in De Soto. Lawrence should be interested. Will Olathe capture the bulk of all the new people who move to this region, or is Lawrence poised to get its fair share?

Certainly, the Census numbers show Olathe knows how to grow and has for a long time. In 1990, Olathe had a population of 65,352, while Lawrence came in at 65,608 people. The most recent population totals show Olathe now has slightly more than 147,000 people, or about 50,000 more than Lawrence. I’m sure there are many people who are just fine that Lawrence hasn’t grown the same way, but it is notable nonetheless.

• Not everybody in Johnson County is growing. Something has happened to its leader, Overland Park. At about 197,000 people, Overland Park is still the second largest city in the state. But, it lost population in 2023 and has lost population two of the last three years. The loss is not yet dramatic — a decline of a little more than 600 people since 2020 — but it is a sign that things aren’t quite what they used to be in Overland Park. In the recent past, I’ve noted that Overland Park also has seen declining sales tax numbers.

• It is a very mixed bag for the state’s largest cities when it comes to population growth. Of the six largest cities in the state — Wichita, Overland Park, Kansas City, Olathe, Topeka and Lawrence — half of them lost population in 2023, and it very nearly was four of the six. I’ve told you about Olathe and Lawrence’s growth, and Overland Park’s decline. As for the others, Wichita grew only by 0.01%, or 56 people. Kansas City, Kansas, lost 305 people for a 0.20% decline, and Topeka lost 24 for a 0.02% decline. That actually was a bit of a victory for Topeka. It had been losing population at a much faster rate this decade. Since 2020, it is down more than 900 residents.

• In the category of not all predictions come true is Manhattan. It wasn’t many years ago that Manhattan was projected to be a boom town as it landed the National Bio and Agro-Defense laboratory that brought tens of millions of dollars of federal investment and made the home of Kansas State University the center for the study of all types of animal diseases. But the population boom has not come to that town. Manhattan lost about 130 residents in 2023 and has lost 476 this decade. Its population is now 53,682. Back in 2012, its population was about 56,000 people. The town’s population decline coincides with an enrollment decline at KSU.

Here’s a look at some other area towns of note, with their current population and their one-year and three-year growth rates.

• Basehor: 7,719, up 2.25% in 2023; up 11.3% since 2020;

• Bonner Springs: 7,621, down 0.51% in 2023; down 2.57% since 2020;

• De Soto: 6,539, up 0.93 in 2023; up 6.33% since 2020;

• Leavenworth: 37,034, down 0.1% in 2023; down 0.77% since 2020;

• McLouth: 835, down 1.18% in 2023; down 2.34% since 2020;

• Oskaloosa: 1,080, down 0.28% in 2023; down 1.55% since 2020;

• Ottawa: 12,686, up 0.64% in 2023; up 0.38% since 2020;

• Overbrook: 984, down 0.4% in 2023; down 1.99% since 2020;

• Perry: 851, down 0.12% in 2023; down 0.23% since 2020;

• Wellsville: 1,930, up 0.21% in 2023; down 0.87% since 2020.


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