City awaits census, glimpse at future

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 22, 2001

After two years of hearing about Census 2000, the data is finally rolling in, said Albert Lea City Planner Bob Graham.

Thursday, March 22, 2001

After two years of hearing about Census 2000, the data is finally rolling in, said Albert Lea City Planner Bob Graham.

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But Minnesota hasn’t received new numbers yet. While states like Iowa sift through their revised figures, Minnesotans must wait at least another week before the Census Bureau submits its counts to the state, Graham said. Then municipalities have to wait until the governor’s office releases the data.

&uot;The state gets the first look because of legislative redistricting,&uot; Graham said.

At a recent conference of planners in New Orleans, Graham discussed details of the census with his peers from across the country. Some had their numbers already and were in the process of analyzing, while others, like Graham, were still waiting. All agreed the impact of Census 2000 would be significant, Graham said.

&uot;We’re looking forward to seeing the numbers. I won’t even venture a guess what they’ll show,&uot; Graham said.

City Manager Paul Sparks said the census is important to state and federal aid. If the data shows significant decline in the city’s population, highway funding, local government aid and city services could be affected.

Graham said a problem he anticipates is processing the raw data, a huge task for Census 2000’s wealth of numbers. In the past, the University of Minnesota helped process some data, but Graham isn’t sure how the process will work this year as the data surfaces on the Internet.

&uot;We don’t have the resources or the expertise in our office to analyze tables and tables of raw data. Right now we’re trying to figure out if we need to get a certain software or find out who will be the resource in the state,&uot; Graham said.

Here are some things Graham will be looking for when Minnesota’s Census 2000 figures are released in the next two weeks:

n Total population – This number is the bottom line concerning growth in Albert Lea and Freeborn County.

Graham hopes to see an increase over 1990’s census, but would be happy with a figure showing the city maintaining its population.

A decrease, which Graham admitted is certainly possible, would indicate a dangerous trend, especially for school districts.

Graham said he is also curious to see how Albert Lea’s neighbors are doing, including Austin and Owatonna.

n Ethnic counts – Hispanic numbers have been rising throughout the nation, and the same will probably be true for Albert Lea, Graham said. &uot;I’m sure the Hispanic population in the area will show an increase, but to what degree, I couldn’t tell you,&uot; Graham said.

n Neighborhood breakdowns – Seeing how population in the city has shifted from neighborhood to neighborhood is perhaps Graham’s most pressing concern. As a planner, he can identify trends in the city by looking at data for occupancy rates and average household sizes.

&uot;We can anticipate where the growth is occurring and what neighborhoods are aging,&uot; Graham said.

n Income data – Another way to determine growth patterns is to identify pockets of poverty and pockets of wealth, Graham said.

&uot;It’s a really important tool for federal grants,&uot;

Graham said. &uot;We’ll be looking for income gaps and total community income.&uot;

Though the first wave of local data is expected in the coming weeks, Graham said the Census Bureau will continue to release data over the next two or three years.

&uot;It’s going to be a long process,&uot; he said.