City halts decline

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 7, 2001

Albert Lea Mayor Bob Haukoos thinks the city can one day regain the population high of the 1970 census, perhaps by 2010.

Saturday, April 07, 2001

Albert Lea Mayor Bob Haukoos thinks the city can one day regain the population high of the 1970 census, perhaps by 2010. More importantly, the years of population decline are over.

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&uot;It’s a relief to know we’ve stopped losing people,&uot; Haukoos said. &uot;In my mind, with the things we have going for us, we’re going to continue to gain in the next decade.&uot;

The 1980s, in particular, were hard years for Albert Lea, Haukoos said. The city was losing jobs and people were moving elsewhere to look for job opportunities. From the 1980 census to 1990, the city lost about 900 residents – a 5 percent drop.

&uot;I was really hoping to see the some kind of increase. We gained 46 residents, which isn’t a lot. But, the bottom line is we didn’t lose either,&uot; Haukoos said.

Haukoos’ vision for the city is to make it more visible to interstate travelers, he said. With new developments on the north and east sides of the city, Haukoos thinks more people will realize what Albert Lea has to offer.

&uot;More people will be coming to our city in the coming years because we’re becoming more visible. We’re also trying hard to attract new business and industry, and increase our housing opportunities,&uot; Haukoos said. &uot;I think the trend is shifting.&uot;

City Planner Bob Graham said the census results were encouraging because the number of young people remained stable.

&uot;I think it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see our young population, 17 and younger, decline. We’re about the same, and that’s very positive news,&uot; Graham said.

Albert Lea is more in line with state and national trends now than 10 years ago, said Sen. Grace Schwab, R-Albert Lea. Most of the state saw an increase in Hispanic population to help with a labor shortage.

&uot;We’re definitely better off with diversity,&uot; Schwab said. &uot;Our businesses can continue to grow with available labor, and it’s an opportunity for all of us to learn and expand our perspective.&uot;

Census 2000 results show 1,740 Hispanic or Latino people in Albert Lea, up from 997 in 1990 – representing an increase of almost 75 percent. The influx of Hispanic/Latino families is also reflected county-wide. Census workers counted 2,049 Hispanic/Latino people in 2000 for an increase of 90 percent from 1990.

&uot;I’m not surprised with the increases in Hispanic families,&uot; said rep, Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea. &uot;I think most people expected to see that. My guess is the trend will continue, so we all have to be open to diversity.&uot;

Dorman was disappointed the county population declined by nearly 500 residents.

&uot;I think it’s a problem in the county. We shouldn’t have shrunk that much. We really have to make a commitment to economic development in order to grow the whole county in the next decade,&uot; Dorman said.

Dorman said the census results will be the hot topic at the Capitol in the coming weeks as redistricting gets underway. He expects District 27 A to expand in size to the north and west in order to pick up about 4,000 more residents.

&uot;Many of the border counties in the south and west will have to get bigger because they lost population. I’d like to do anything I can to reverse that trend,&uot; Dorman said.

Pam Bishop, director of Greater Jobs, Inc., said the Albert Lea was fortunate in the 1990s because the state’s economy grew.

&uot;We’ve had a lot of stability in our economic base,&uot; Bishop said. &uot;The next five years should look even better for our community.&uot;

Focusing too much on population numbers is a mistake, Bishop said. The emphasis should remain on the economy and jobs.

&uot;People can work and live almost anywhere in today’s economy. We need to focus on the health of our businesses and industries. That will be the best way to monitor the big picture,&uot; she said.