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Albert Lea population highest in more than 30 years; county sees slight dip

After seeing a stagnant or declining population in recent decades, Albert Lea had an increase in its population in 2020, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data listed Albert Lea’s population at 18,492, up from 18,016 in 2010. The next highest census record was in 1980 when the population was 19,200, and the highest-ever census total was in 1970, when the population was listed as 19,418.

Albert Lea City Manager Ian Rigg said from what he has read, metro and urban areas have been steadily growing, while more rural areas have not or are losing population.

“While we may not be above the national average for population growth, we did move forward in a positive direction,” Rigg said.

He noted he did not know all the reasons for the increase but noted that what a community provides residents can attract new people or retain a larger section of its younger population when they believe there are opportunities for them.

“I would like to believe those are reasons for Albert Lea’s growth in a larger area that shrunk in population overall,” Rigg said.

Rigg said the city’s next steps are to keep the growth going by working on affordable and market rate housing, looking into equitable quality of life for residents, working with current industries to expand, working with educators to open doors, and to continue working with the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, the county and other partners to bring in new opportunities.

Freeborn County population declines

Though the city’s population increased, Freeborn County’s population as a whole decreased 360 people from 2010 to 2020. 

The 2020 Census shows the county’s total population declined from 31,255 in 2010 to 30,895 in 2020, or a decrease of 1.2%. 

Freeborn County Administrator Tom Jensen said he had expected a decrease in the county numbers and was actually surprised the population had not gone lower, considering the county’s aging population and that the county is not retaining as many youth after high school.

“We weren’t happy to lose population, but I’m happy we didn’t lose more,” he said.

Despite the slight decline, he said he did not anticipate any major changes in county commissioner districts, and he does not expect any changes in county funding or programs.

According to the data, Freeborn County’s population is diversifying, with 84.1%, or 25,988 people, identifying themselves as white. In 2010, that figure was 29,121, or 93.2% of the population. 

Increases were reported in all minority race categories except for one, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander, where there was a decrease in 13 people. 

About 10.3%, or 3,183 people, identified themselves as Hispanic, and 1,148 people identified as Asian, up from 238 in 2000. Black or African American increased from 231 to 486. 

People who identified as two or more races increased from 518 in 2000 to 1,857 in 2020. 

Jensen said there was a big push locally when the census was taking place to make sure everyone in the community was accurately counted, and he was pleased to see the response from the diverse populations in the community. He noted there is a consensus that one of the only ways to grow outstate rural counties is through immigration. These people also help supply much needed workforce for area businesses, as well, he said.

Decreases were also reported in neighboring Faribault and Waseca counties, with a decrease in populations of 4.3% and 0.9%, respectively. 

Mower and Steele counties, on the contrary, saw increases of over 2% each, with Mower County surpassing 40,000 people. 

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett said she expects her district to expand in size when the district lines are redrawn.

“From what I’ve heard, it typically ends up being decided in the courts because it’s so partisan, so we’ll see what happens with the redrawing of district lines,” she said.

She said moving forward, the area has an opportunity to market itself as friendly and safe in light of some of the events happening in the metro. With the flexiblity of working remotely, more people have the opportunity to live remotely, as well.

She said rural communities need to focus on things that will make it easier to come here. One of the things that sticks out to her, she said, is broadband internet.

 

Albert Lea census totals

2020: 18,492

2010: 18,016

2000: 18,356

1990: 18,310

1980: 19,200

1970: 19,418

1960: 17,108

1950: 13,545

1940: 12,200

1930: 10,169

1920: 8,056

1910: 6,192

1900: 4,500

— U.S. Census Bureau

Census numbers for area counties

County               2010        2020        Difference
Freeborn           31,255     30,895      -1.2%
Faribault           14,553     13,921       -4.3%
Mower               39,163     40,029     +2.2%
Steele                36,576      37,406     +2.3%
Waseca             19,136      18,968       -0.9%
— U.S. Census Bureau