Residents of Grand Island, Neb.: Welcome to the big time.
With the latest county population estimates released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau, Grand Island — the largest Nebraska city outside the Omaha and Lincoln metropolitan areas — now has enough population to also be considered a metro.
The city and its surrounding region came in with an official population of 83,472.
The change continues the trend of increasing urbanization across Nebraska and the nation. Despite the perception of Nebraska as a rural state, nearly two-thirds of the state's 1.86 million people now reside in a metro area.
“That would surprise a lot of people, given our vast area, but the population is really concentrated in a couple of major areas,” said David Drozd, a demographer for the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Center for Public Affairs Research.
There were other notables from the county population estimates:
» Sarpy County in the Omaha area ranked among the 100 fastest-growing counties in the nation. With estimated growth of 4.4 percent from the 2010 Census to July 2012, it ranked 94th nationally. Dallas County, Iowa, in the Des Moines area also cracked the list, with its 8.8 percent growth ranking 14th.
» The Omaha area grew by about 1 percent between 2011 and 2012 to 885,624, while the Lincoln metro are grew 1.23 percent to 310,342. The Sioux City metro area, which includes Dakota and Dixon Counties in Nebraska, was essentially unchanged at 168,921.
» The nearly century-old trend of rural counties losing population while more urban ones gained continued, with only 33 of the state's 93 counties gaining population between 2011 and 2012.
That was slightly better than the trend for the decade, which has seen only 24 counties gain people. The three largest counties — Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster — essentially accounted for the growth in the state during the year, with changes in the other 90 counties being about a wash.
With the latest population estimates, the city of Grand Island and its immediate urban fringes surpassed 50,000 people for the first time. That was significant, because the federal government considers any city of 50,000 and the county it is part of to be metro.
In addition, any surrounding counties that show a significant pattern of commuting into the core metro county also become part of the metro area. Residents of Hamilton, Howard and Merrick Counties may be surprised to learn that they are metropolitan, too, as they join Hall County — Grand Island's home — to form the new Grand Island metro.
The distinction is more than just semantics, Drozd said. Under federal law, there are certain federal programs and grants that only metro areas are eligible for. Reaching that point is something local officials in Grand Island have been watching and striving for, he said.
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