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Census estimates show rapid growth in Des Moines metro area, decline in most Iowa counties


DES MOINES, Iowa — The Des Moines metro area is growing quickly while most Iowa counties have declining populations, according to U.S. Census estimates released Thursday.

The Des Moines-West Des Moines metro area population reached an estimated 611,549, up 7.4 percent from the 2010 U.S. Census, according to the data. The majority of Iowa counties — 68 of 99 — however, lost residents. Overall, Iowa's population rose by 2 percent since 2010.

Gary Krob, coordinator of the State Data Center, said the 2014 estimates mean Iowa has seen continuous growth since 1988. He said Iowa's population increases slower than other states, but that the growth has been steady and more widespread than in other areas of the country.

Illinois, for example, saw population declines of about 2 percent in some western and central cities since 2010, with growth primarily focused in the Chicago, Bloomington and Champaign-Urbana metros. In comparison, Iowa saw upticks in all of its metropolitan centers.

"It's relatively good for Iowa to have growth throughout the state rather than concentrated in only one area," Krob said.

The data show Dallas County had a 17 percent increase, the largest among Iowa counties, followed by Johnson County at 8.7 percent and Polk County at 6.8 percent. The biggest decline was in Fremont County, where population dropped 5.6 percent.

Fremont County Auditor Joan Kirk said she expects the region's population to continue to fall. She said whenever somebody leaves the southwestern Iowa county, the vacated land is typically converted for farming.

"Don't get me wrong — it's a wonderful place to live," Kirk said. But with farms taking over most of the land, she said, there aren't many job opportunities.

Clinton County lost the most residents numerically, down by an estimated 1,065 people since 2010. This loss reflected a 2.2 percent decrease in population overall. Pottawattamie and Mahaska counties saw no change at all.

Each of Iowa's nine metro areas grew, from the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro in the west to the Davenport-Moline-Rock Island metro in the east. The Iowa City metro led the pack, up 7.7 percent since 2010.

Wendy Ford, Iowa City's economic development coordinator, said she attributes the increase in part to being home to the University of Iowa, but also to the city's efforts to make it a desirable place to live and work.

"Iowa City isn't the most well-known to people across the country, but once they get here, they realize what we have to offer," she said.

Krob said he expects Iowa to follow a similar pattern of slow, general growth moving forward, "barring any unforeseen circumstances."

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