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Cities show population increases

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

This one's worthy of a news flash: Populations in some northwest Kansas cities are growing.

Sure, it's a slight increase, but at least it's something of a reversal in the population drain that's been witnessed during past years, even decades.

Population estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau for conditions as of July 1, 2011, for cities in northwest Kansas showed an increase of 0.15 percent from 2010 -- accounting for an extra 17 people living in the region.

To be sure, there were continued decreases in many cities, WaKeeney, Rush Center, McCracken, Long Island and Bison among them.

But there were increases as well in Colby, Goodland and Hays, however slight they might be.

"That's good news," said Joe Aistrup, head of the political science department at Kansas State University and a former Hays resident. "I'm smiling right now. Big time."

Aistrup pinned the increases on consistently good grain prices, in place since 2005, a strong energy sector and perhaps a flight from the countryside to the cities -- notably Hays, Goodland and Colby, where amenities are the highest.

Hays had perhaps the largest increase in population between 2010 and 2011.

In 2010, Hays had a population of 20,510. As of July 1, 2011, the Census Bureau is estimating its population had increased to 20,717.

Colby added another 18 people to its rolls and now numbers 5,438. Goodland increased to 4,522 -- a jump of 30 people. Oakley gained nine people, and Ness City added five.

Sharon Springs gained 20 people.

On the flip side, however, WaKeeney lost 41 people, Phillipsburg lost 35, La Crosse lost 33, Oberlin lost 19 and Norton lost 16.

While the numbers are just estimates, Aistrup said they're usually pretty close and reflect births and deaths during the past year.

He said likely it's a reflection of younger people moving into the region.

"There must be an uptick in live births in the city," Aistrup said. "And that's good news."

The region's economy has been strong, he said, despite weaknesses elsewhere, because of the high commodity prices and surging energy sector, which has resulted in a high number of new oil wells being drilled.

Some of the cities' gains, however, might have come from farmers reaching the age where they either move into the city or simply move to take advantage of what's offered.

Aistrup contends that's why Hays, Goodland and Colby, for the most part, are seeing the larger increases because "that's where the amenities are."

"It's real important that we stem the decline," he said. "Whether or not we have reversed it remains to be seen."

Aistrup has been holding out hope the decline might one day bottom out.

"I felt like it would come in 20 years," he said. "There will be a point where the bottom would be struck. But I thought it would be 20 years.

"It looks to me like there are good things going on."