March 5, 2011 | Fremont Tribune | Original Article

Dodge County sees minority population growth

Fremont's Hispanic or Latino population grew by 190 percent over the past decade, and Dodge County saw 160 percent growth in that same demographic, according to U.S. Census figures released this week.

The data offered the first look at population counts, race, Hispanic origin, voting age and housing unit data released from the 2010 Census.

Statewide, the Hispanic population has by far been the fastest growing segment of the population - 77.3 percent since 2000. People claiming Hispanic or Latino descent, at 94,425, made up 5.5 percent of the state's population in 2000. Last year that number had swollen to 167,405 people - 9.2 percent of the total population.

Dodge County was home to 1,421 Hispanic or Latino people in 2000, with 1,085 of them living in Fremont. The 2010 Census showed 3,689 Hispanics and Latinos living in Dodge County, and 3,149 in Fremont - 10 percent of the overall county population, and 11.9 percent of Fremont's total count.

"Hispanics increased about 160 percent for Dodge County. At the same time, white non-Hispanic was down about 6 percent, so you kind of have the divergence there among races," said David Drozd, a demographer and Census expert at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. "Coincidentally black non-Hispanic was up 26 percent and some of the other race groups grew as well.

"Like a lot of counties, Dodge County is one where all of the growth can be attributed to minority population groups," he said. "There were 74 counties in the state that had majority population decline and minority increase, so that is pretty common in our state."

The state's population overall increased by 6.7 percent in the past decade - from 1,711,263 in 2000 to 1,826,341 in 2010.

Dodge County remains the seventh most populace county with 36,691 people in 2010, a growth rate of 1.5 percent since 2000.

Fremont picked up 1,223 new residents since 2000 - a 4.9 percent increase - and continues to be the sixth largest city in the state with 26,397 people.

Fremont's growth was more robust than Norfolk, Hastings, North Platte and Scottsbluff, but lagged behind Grand Island (13 percent), Kearney, Columbus and South Sioux City.

Omaha's population gain mirrored Fremont's rate at 4.9 percent, but the cities in the immediate Omaha metropolitan area saw some of the greatest growth in the state, ranging as high as 34.7 percent in La Vista.

Douglas (11.5 percent), Washington, Colfax and Saunders County (4.8) all saw population gains in the past decade. Cuming and Burt counties lost population.

Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ron Tillery said Fremont and Dodge County's population growth bucked pre-Census predictions.

"The Census estimates from last year had us backing up in population," Tillery said.

"It's very encouraging to see us growing as a city and a county when the overwhelming majority of Nebraska counties and cities are not growing," he said. "We're in the category of the I-80 communities and the metro communities in that we posted growth."

Indeed the Census did indicate what some are referring to as an easterly migration of Nebraskans away from rural areas and into the state's metropolitan areas or near the Interstate.

"The majority of counties showing growth are in the east," Drozd agreed. "Everybody talks about I-80, but we also have a (U.S.) Highway 30 corridor between Columbus and Schuyler to Fremont and Blair, that's a growing area as well."

Tillery said regional growth numbers give economic developers fresh ammunition for retail developers.

"I think our proximity to the metro has an influence on our growth, but I think we have also seen some developments over the past few years that are going to contribute to that, too. We've had some major retail developments occur," Tillery said, pointing to new business parks and residential developments.

"The fact that we had some people working on those important things that at that time certainly weren't a sure thing, that has an influence on whether or not we're going to see growth in the future," Tillery said. "People have to make investments sometimes on good faith rather than a sure thing, and the fact that we saw people investing in housing and infrastructure that supports housing and some industrial and large commercial projects, all of those things together, plus our advantageous location to the metro probably pushed that total Census number higher rather than seeing us back up like some other counties did."

Jobs are the driving force behind population growth, Drozd said.

"Nebraska obviously has held up well in the recession, and that's brought a lot more people to the state from other states, but they're going where the jobs are," Drozd said. "This consolidation of the state's population into its largest counties was higher in the 2000s than it had been the last few decades. People are going where the jobs are and that's primarily the Lincoln and Omaha area.

"Dodge County has a little bit of that, but by and large just can't keep pace with the gains in Sarpy or Douglas or Lancaster County," he added.