February 22, 2011 | Trib Local | Original Article

Census: Hispanics now largest non-White population in Will County

When Omar and Maria Castillo moved to Bolingbrook in 2005, they knew they found a good place to raise their two young children and make a home for themselves.

“I don’t think we ever felt like outsiders when we moved to Bolingbrook,” said Castillo, a first-generation American from Mexico.

The Castillos liked the village’s diversity — its Mexican restaurants and church services offered in Spanish — and recent Census figures show the Castillos were not alone in their migration to Will County, which saw an explosive growth in its Hispanic population in the last decade.

Will County’s Hispanics increased by 142 percent, according to Census data released last week, and major communities in the county also saw significant growth. The number of Hispanics in Plainfied is seven times what it was in 2000. Bolingbrook and Joliet numbers more than doubled and Romeoville’s Hispanic residents tripled.

Granted, as the fastest growing county in the Chicago area, Will County saw substantial growth in all populations. The fastest-growing non-White population was Asians, who saw a 177 percent jump countywide though in many communities in the county, Hispanics were the largest non-White racial group with a total of 105,817 residents, according to Census data. In 2000, Blacks were the largest non-White group. Blacks in the county saw a 44 percent increase bringing the 2010 count to 75,743 making them the third-largest racial group in Will.

As the Hispanic community grows in Will County, several Hispanic-businesses have popped up. But the county’s only social service agency dedicated to helping Hispanics said the influx has strained its limited resources.

Elizabeth Castillo, assistant executive director of the Spanish Community Center in Joliet, said many Hispanic residents come to them in search of bilingual services, English language classes and other social services. She said over the years, she could see their clientele numbers growing, but could not quantify the increase until now.

“Unfortunately without those numbers you can’t say a lot,” she said.

She said many new Latinos in Joliet move from Chicago looking for jobs, safer neighborhoods and better housing options. In contrast, Chicago’s overall population has dropped 7 percent from 2000, though it’s Hispanic and Latino population grew by 3 percent.

County leaders credit the same thing attractions — affordable housing, low crime and good schools — with the county’s overall growth, which was easily visible as rows of subdivisions mushroomed over the past decade replacing miles of farmland.

The 2010 Census figures show Plainfield’s population at 39,581 (204 percent increase from 2000), Bolingbrook was 73,366 (30 percent increase), Joliet was 147,433 (38.8 percent increase) and Romeoville was 39,680 (88 percent increase).

The figures for Plainfield, which showed enormous growth in the village — almost tripling in size — was right on target with the village’s 2007 special census estimate, said Village Administrator Brian Murphy.

“There’s nothing that they’ve reported that struck me as surprising,” Murphy said. He pointed to the mostly high-achieving school district and the village’s shopping options, along with its interstate access, as principle draws to the village.

Joliet City Manager Tom Thanas said most of city’s growth came between 1996 and 2007, when at the height of the housing boom the city issued 2,000 building permits in one year.

“Certainly this is no surprise,” Thanas said. “Obviously we have the building permits and the new water accounts to show that Joliet has been growing.”

But in 2008, that growth halted and the city has issued only a few dozen building permits since then.

Jeff Gregory, a real estate agent, who has worked in Will County for nine years, said the real estate market has already seen the housing market start to uptick. However, the homes are not new construction and have smaller square footage than those that were selling over the past decade.

“My guess is 10 years from now, there is not going to be nearly as much growth,” Gregory said. “From a business standpoint, I think there will be a lot of resale activity in the next five years.”

Triblocal reporter Michelle Manchir contributed to this report.