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Population decline continues

5/22/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

QUINTER -- Ericka Nicholson could see Quinter was growing.

She just didn't know by how much.

Nicholson now knows the population of Quinter -- Gove County's largest community -- jumped by 41 people since 2010. Most of that increase came between 2012 and 2013, according to the latest estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

All five Gove County communities registered increases, albeit small ones. The cities of Grainfield and Gove, the county seat, both added a single resident, and Park and Grinnell each gained two.

The numbers released today provide a mixed bag of results.

Population estimates for 29 cities showed an increase, and 17 cities didn't change. But that means 44 cities lost numbers, an ongoing problem for rural areas of Kansas and especially northwest and western Kansas.

McCracken, Bison and Lebanon each had losses since 2010 in excess of 5 percent, while at the other end of the spectrum only two cities had gains of 5 percent or more, and both of them were in Wallace County.

The county's namesake of Wallace had the greatest gains, percentage-wise, but the jump only meant the addition of four people to the community, now numbering 61 residents.

Quinter had a 4.5-percent gain, much to Nicholson's delight.

Hays recorded a 2.5-percent gain and remains a community of more than 21,000 residents. Ellis also increased by 1.5 percent.

In Gove County, Nicholson said it's no longer a battle between communities, noting county commissioners just this year are fully funding an economic development office.

Plus, she said, there's been strong growth in Quinter businesses, pointing to Gove County Medical Center, DC Welding, Formation Plastics and Swift Bullet Co., a 2013 finalist for exporter of the year and a nominee again this year.

"It's the people out here," Nicholson said of the strength behind Quinter's growth.

Nicholson also points to the state's ROZ -- Rural Opportunity Zone -- program as helping boost population growth.

Nicholson is acutely aware of its benefits, as her husband, Steve, a science teacher at Quinter High School, used the program when they moved from Nebraska.

It means an extra $1,100 a year for him.

"It isn't a lot," she said of the tax benefits from participating in the program. "But it's something."

Currently, four people are taking advantage of the program in Gove County, with six more on the waiting list.

Nicholson, who moved to Quinter from Hays, also heralds a housing grant received by the city.

Bainter Construction of Hoxie will be using some of that to build 16 apartments and four duplexes in Quinter, she said.

"We're hoping it causes a ripple effect of housing," Nicholson said, lamenting the last "stick-built" home in Quinter was in 2002 -- a home built to replace one lost in a fire.