Tuesday, May 23, 2006

New People Count Set for Hub of the Universe

The Marion City Council authorized funds Monday to pay the U.S. Census Bureau for a special census to be conducted later this year.

Marion was the 139th largest incorporated place in Illinois in the 2000 Census, and the third largest in the Southern Illinois region outside the MetroEast. Only Mount Vernon and Carbondale were larger.

The Census Bureau currently estimates that Marion has grown by 818 residents since the 2000 Census for a new total of 16,853. The city council thinks the city has grown even faster and I agree.

The bottom line is that if the city has grown at least 500 residents then the cost of the special census will be covered by the increased per capita funding the city receives from the state. Anything over that is gravy.

What's interesting are the population figures for Williamson County. Enumerators counted 61,296 residents in 2000, which meant that the county had finally recovered from the four-decade downward spiral that began in the 1920s following the Herrin Massacre and the general switch from underground coal mining to surface mining that eliminated thousands of jobs.

The 2000 population figure for the county was only 204 residents more than in 1920. The downward trend ended following 1960 when the population was 46,117, or just 1,019 more than we had in 1910.

Despite the booming economy now, the fastest population growth actually took place in the first two decades of the 20th Century when the county went from 27,796 residents to 61,092 in just 20 years.

Herrin went from a post office in a prairie to the largest community in the county during those same two decades. (People have wondered if it will survive the upcoming closing of the Maytag plant. Trust me, it will. The community has survived far worse economic and social upheavels).

Interestingly, the Census Bureau estimates that in 2002 Marion surpassed Mount Vernon as the region's second largest community. Between 1990 and 2000 Mount Vernon lost 719 residents. By 2004 the Census Bureau estimated they only grew by 68 for a total of 16,337.

The 2000 Census also showed that Williamson County had surpassed Jackson County as the largest county in the region outside the MetroEast with 1,684 more residents. Census estimates through 2004 show the gap widening to 4,823 as Williamson County's population is now projected to be 63,094.

Population isn't the only way to measure the region, there's also retail sales.

Figures from the Illinois Department of Revenue show Marion edged past Carbondale for the title of the region's top retail trade center in FY2004 (the latest year available online) with $427.1 million in retail sales versus Carbondale's $426.9 million. The difference is even greater comparing the counties. Jackson County businesses reported $578.2 million in taxable sales. In Williamson County the figure was $679.0 million.

Besides the increased government funding the new census will provide hard data to replace the estimates now in place. The new data, if it shows the growth that's apparent, should help in the effort to attract new outside investment in the region in terms of new industry and other businesses.

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