Freeborn County’s population sees small decline in latest estimates

Published 9:00 pm Friday, April 14, 2023

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Recent data released by the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Freeborn County saw a slight decline in population from 2020 to 2022.

The estimate includes numbers from April 1, 2020, to July 1, 2022, and incorporates the number of births, deaths and people who move in and out of the county.

According to the agency, Freeborn County’s population was estimated at 30,902 in 2020; 30,808 in 2021; and 30,718 in 2022. The difference from 2020 to 2022 is a decrease of 184 residents, or 0.6%.

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Of the neighboring counties, Waseca, Winnebago and Worth counties also saw decreases, with Worth County seeing the largest percentage decrease of 1.6% in population. The Census Bureau listed Worth County as having 7,435 people in 2020, 7,380 in 2021 and 7,319 in 2022, a decline of 116 people over the two-year span.

Waseca County’s population estimate decreased by 71 people, or 0.3%, and Winnebago County’s estimate decreased by 45 people, or 0.4%.

During the same two-year span, Steele County saw an increase of 23 people, or 0.06%; Faribault County saw an increase of 25 people, or 0.2%; and Mower County saw an increase of 86 people, or 0.2%. Blue Earth County saw an increase of 420 people, or 0.6%.

Only Steele, Mower and Blue Earth counties had more births than deaths listed for the two-year span with 903 births to 828 deaths in Steele County; 1,100 births to 953 deaths in Mower County and 1,591 births to 1,276 deaths in Blue Earth County.

Freeborn County had more deaths than births with 900 deaths compared to 705 births.

Freeborn County Administrator Candace Pesch said the county has been teetering right above 30,000 population for several years.

“We’re just barely staying above,” Pesch said. “That is a sign of just the makeup of our community, and it highlights our need to really focus on growth and economic development and making our community an attractive destination for those looking to relocate and work somewhere new and different.”

She said the county is working with its community partners, including the city of Albert Lea, Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau, to identify needs in the community and areas that would encourage people to work and live in the county.

“Part of that is looking into addressing our day care issues, bringing in new businesses, developing the downtown, identifying out-county areas for new businesses, developing the UP trail — that has been a big project to attract people to come to the county to explore,” she said.

County leaders have also focused on expanding broadband and are eager to work with anyone who will work with the county to get broadband service to people in the underserved areas of the county.

“We hear more and more there are young people who want to move into a more rural area,” she said. “One of the key things they need is quality internet with speed.”

She said Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association’s expansion in Freeborn County in the next few years will be a big asset to the county in addressing these needs.

Albert Lea City Manager Ian Rigg said he was not sure how the Census Bureau determines its numbers, but noted it had estimated a population loss for Albert Lea but was wrong once the 2020 census was complete.

“What I do know is we have seen more housing units become available in 2022 and fill quickly,” Rigg said. “We expect over the next two years to see over 200 more units become available. We have the job openings, job growth and many great amenities in the city, we just need more quality housing to become available.”

District 23A Rep. Peggy Bennett said as a state, Minnesota needs to make sure to have a good business climate so businesses aren’t closing the doors and leaving the state.

That means looking at things such as business taxes and mandates put on businesses, including the proposed paid family leave time being considered at the Capitol. She said while they may be nice on one hand, they make it difficult for businesses to compete.

Bennett said she has heard from some businesses who have said they can’t handle much more.

“We don’t want to lose any more businesses,” she said. “We want to grow them, so we have to make sure we have employers here.”

Other things that are important include broadband expansion and promoting what’s good about living in a rural community, referencing lower property taxes and beautiful lakes and other amenities.

“We can hopefully as a community advertise what a great place this is to live — good schools and a nice place for families to live,” Bennett said.