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NEW DATA: Urban growth still outpacing rural Iowa

Downtown Cedar Rapids is seen in this 1998 photo. The city was Iowa's fastest-growing from 2000 to 2010, according to the 2010 Census.
Downtown Cedar Rapids is seen in this 1998 photo. The city was Iowa's fastest-growing from 2000 to 2010, according to the 2010 Census.

A well-worn story line about Iowa population remained intact Thursday.

Census figures for 2010 show the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Corridor and Des Moines metro area continue strong growth, while much of rural Iowa continues to lose population.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett called the city’s 4.6 percent growth — to 126,326 residents — between 2000 and 2010 “incredibly good news” given the 2008 flood from which the city is still recovering.

He attributed the city’s continued growth — although below the 11 percent growth rate between 1990 and 2000 — as a testament to the good job market and the resiliency of the city’s population, many of whom apparently stayed after the flood.

In Coralville, Assistant City Administrator Ellen Habel said she wasn’t sure what to expect from the Census Bureau because of the housing units Coralville lost to the 2008 flood. Numbers show Coralville’s population grew 25 percent in the decade.

"Population growth of 25 percent over 10 years is strong,” said Habel.

In city after city in the Corridor, the story was the same — growth. Overall, Iowa’s population grew 4.1 percent to 3,046,355. Linn County’s population grew 10.2 percent, and Johnson County’s, 17.9 percent.

Eleven of the top 50 cities for growth were in Linn and Johnson counties.

North Liberty’s percentage population growth was second in the state, up 149 percent. Fairfax’s was third, up 139 percent, and Shueyville’s was fourth, up 130 percent.

They trailed only Waukee, up 169 percent, in the Des Moines metro area.

In Linn County, Robins’ population climbed 74 percent; flood-hit Palo’s, 67 percent; and Ely’s, 54.6 percent. In Johnson County, Tiffin’s population jumped 99.6 percent; and Solon’s, 73 percent.

Kari Stillman, vice president for marketing and communications at the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said the new census numbers prove the Corridor is a place “where people want to live, companies want to locate and our economy continues to expand.”

“We are pleased to have the statistics that support these statements,” Stillman said.

One of the big unanswered questions going into the 2010 census was the flood’s impact on the population of Cedar Rapids, Coralville and Palo.

Liesl Eathington, a researcher with Iowa State University’s Regional Economic and Community Analysis Program, said the Census Bureau in July 2009 estimated that Cedar Rapids’ population had grown to 127,764 from 120,758 in 2000. The final tally shows the city’s population at 126,326, or 1,438 less than estimated.

Either the bureau’s methodology was off in 2009 or the flood contributed to some population loss, Eathington said.

Corbett said the relative health of the Cedar Rapids job market and the fact that many flood victims were older residents likely helped to keep people in the metro area, though some of the population may have leaked to Marion and other nearby cities, he said.

Jeff Schott, program director at the University of Iowa’s Institute of Public Affairs and a former city manager in Marion, said city officials always prefer that their city grows rather than declines in population. Steady growth can be better than rapid, uncontrolled growth, though, he said.

Schott suggested that most of the growth in even the fastest-growing parts of the state came before the last couple of years of the decade, when the economy forced development in many places to slow to a crawl.

Nonetheless, he said he was surprised to see the population jump of 32.2 percent in Marion. Maybe some of that came from flood-effected people moving from Cedar Rapids, he said.

“There certainly are large areas of Cedar Rapids that are depopulated now, and where did those people go?” Schott said.

ISU’s Eathington said the new census numbers confirm what have been ongoing population patterns in the state — metro areas growing, rural ones declining.

Overall, the numbers are not good news, she said, because the state would like to grow faster. Declining population numbers are particularly troubling for rural Iowa, where the loss in the working-age population will make it more difficult to persuade companies to locate there, she said.

Cedar Rapids’ population grew by the largest percentage among the state’s five largest cities: Des Moines was up 2.4 percent; Cedar Rapids, up 4.6 percent; Davenport, up 1.3 percent; Sioux City, down 2.7 percent; and Waterloo, down 0.5 percent.

Nancy Quellhorst, president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, said she expects the growth trajectory in the latest census numbers to continue in her city, which saw a 9 percent population increase to 67,862 people.

“College towns are predicted to lead the growth for the foreseeable future,” she said. “Our community appeals to the largest population segments — baby boomers and millenials.”

Among the state’s five most populous counties, Polk County, with Des Moines as the county seat, grew 15 percent. Linn County, with Cedar Rapids as county seat, grew 10.2 percent.

Scott County in and around Davenport grew 4.1 percent; Black Hawk County, with Waterloo as county seat, was up 2.4 percent. Johnson County, where Iowa City is the county seat, leapt 17.9 percent.

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