City leaders approve of census numbers

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 30, 2001

The new census figures please Austin officials.

Friday, March 30, 2001

The new census figures please Austin officials.

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"I’m so pleased to see our population is growing," Mayor Bonnie Rietz said Thursday. "It was predicted to be quite the other way, especially for Mower County."

Rietz was responding to the census numbers released Wednesday that show an increase in population for both Austin and Mower County.

Mower County’s population grew by 3.3 percent over the past decade, to a total of 38,603. The population of Austin increased 6.4 percent, from 21,907 in 1990 to 23,314 in 2000. Because Austin’s population increased 6.4 percent and yet Mower County’s population increased only 3.3 percent, it is evident some areas in the county lost population from 1990 to 2000.

Rietz said the community is growing at a good pace: "We want people continually coming into the community."

Community leaders have been aware for quite some time that Austin was growing and have been making plans for the expansion of population for quite some time, according to Rietz. Child care, transportation and housing concerns have been the subject of discussion in City Council and Apex Austin meetings. Because the numbers correspond with what has been suspected by city officials for quite some time, Rietz said "there is no need for any great policy changes" in response to the new data.

"We didn’t need the census to know the community is changing," she said. "It just confirmed what we already knew."

Part of the change in the community involves the growing population of individuals of Hispanic ethnicity. Mower County’s Hispanic population has jumped an amazing 563.7 percent from 1990 to 2000. That brings the 2000 total to 1,646 from where it was, at 246 in 1990. This means Hispanics make up 4.26 percent of Mower County’s population, according to the census.

However, on Thursday, George Brophy of the Development Corp. of Austin surmised the census numbers may be low by as much as 50 percent.

Though he admitted the census is not perfect, City Administrator Pat McGarvey said he has no reason to argue with the census numbers released Wednesday.

"I’m happy to see Austin is on the growth side of things," McGarvey said.

McGarvey also said "demographics play an important role in economic decisions." In other words, the city will make decisions for the good of the people in the community and will use the census data statistics to understand who is living in the community. For example, the city probably would not invest in an amusement park if the census data showed a vast majority of the Austin population was comprised of senior citizens in need of health care and housing.

Austin should consider itself lucky because census figures also showed a lack of population growth throughout southern and western Minnesota. In cities nearby, however, population increases ranged from small to explosive. Albert Lea’s population increased by 0.3 percent, bringing the total to 18,356. The population in Rochester grew much more significantly – by 21.3 percent, to a total of 85,806. Owatonna also showed a significant increase, up 15.72 percent – from 19,386 to 22,434.

Freeborn County showed a 1.4 percent decrease in population over the decade, from 33,060 to 32,584. Olmsted County, however, showed a significant increase of 16.7 percent, from 106,470 to 124,277. Both Dodge and Steele counties’ populations increased.

Dodge County’s population rose from 15,731 to 17,731, a 12.71 percent increase. The population in Steele County increased 9.6 percent, from 30,729 to 33,680.

Call Kevira Mertha at 434-2233 or e-mail her at