Census: suburban population boom slowsby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
U.S. Census figures released Thursday show that the explosive growth in Minnesota's outer-ring suburbs is slowing.
St. Paul, Minn. — Southwestern suburban Scott County was once among the fastest-growing counties in the nation. It's still growing, but just not as swiftly as it was a few years ago.
That's true for many metro-area counties, according to the latest Census numbers.
State demographer Tom Gillaspy said the tapering-off of suburban growth reminds him of what many Twin Cities communities experienced in the 1970s.
"Still growing, still growing rapidly, but a little less growth than they had been experiencing," he said. "And a little bit more growth in the rural patterns. And we're beginning to see that pattern a little bit right now."
The slowdown doesn't surprise Gillaspy at all. "People move to take advantage of jobs, and when the job market overall slows down, then it tends to slow down overall movement," he said.
And in some cases, the relationship between the population patterns and the economy goes the other way. People who had jobs related to housing are losing them.
Chris Betcher is a real-estate appraiser from Chisago County, another metro county experiencing a big drop-off in growth.
Betcher remembers just a few years ago when homes would sell within 30 days. Now, he's seen houses stay on the market for a year or more.
Betcher said many of his appraiser friends are looking to go back to school or find part-time gigs. He found a part-time job -- working the slot machines at a casino in Hinckley. He said he just couldn't count on his appraisal business for a steady income.
"We might get two or three appraisals this month, and next month, we might get 10, and the next, we might get one," he said. "So, when you're faced with that and you still have bills to pay, you find something else to help tie you over."
The census data also shows that some rural areas, like Pipestone County in the southwestern corner of the state, have been seeing small but steady gains over the past few years. Pipestone County is a farming community that is also home to a growing wind power industry.
Olmsted County, home to Rochester's Mayo Clinic and IBM, is also gaining residents.
But demographers warn against drawing any sweeping conclusions about the year-to-year estimates.
Sometimes gains or losses can be explained by migration. But other times, it's just a result of growing families, especially if a county is home to a younger population.
For example, the urban counties -- Ramsey and Hennepin -- did show modest gains, but not enough to wow demographer Hazel Reinhardt.
"I don't know if there's anything to make of it or not," she said.
Ramsey County saw a 0.4 percent increase. It was the first time since 2001 that the county's population went up. And Hennepin gained 0.7 percent more people from 2006 to 2007.
But Reinhardt said such small gains could be offset in future years.
She said that probably won't stop civic boosters in the cities and the inner-ring suburbs from reading deeper into the numbers.
"People feel better," Reinhardt said. "It's the chamber of commerce effect. You're promoting something. You always feel better when the numbers are positive. "
But University of Minnesota geographer John Adams said it's possible people are deciding to move closer to the Cities to cut down on commuting costs in response to soaring gas prices.
"That has to be coupled with the issue of population aging and older people who are discovering maybe they should slow down on their driving or get rid of their car and live in a place with transit and closed in housing," he said.
All told, Minnesota still grew about 0.8 percent last year. That's slightly below the national average.
Shakopee, the county seat of Scott County, used to be the fastest growing city in the Twin Cities. From 2000 to 2006, it added 10,000 residents.
Since then, building permits have slowed dramatically. Community development director Michael Leek said a slowdown was inevitable.
"Overall I don't think it's a gloomy picture, and it's been a little bit of a sigh of relief for us in terms of doing some of those things we hadn't been able to," he said.
Leek said the changes have given his staff a chance to step away from overseeing building permits and focus on long-range planning efforts.
- All Things Considered, 03/20/2008, 5:19 p.m.