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Northwest Kansas population growing

3/27/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

More than half of northwest Kansas is growing, new estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau suggest.

The growth is slow, but growth just the same.

Eleven of the 20 counties that make up northwest Kansas registered population increases between July 1, 2012, and the same period in 2013, the latest numbers available.

Since 2010, when the last full-blown census was taken, eight of the counties have registered increases.

While a boost in oil and gas exploration has received much of the credit, oil-rich Ness County wasn't among the counties showing an increase by either measure.

In something of a surprise, Ellis County had a small loss in population from 2012 to 2013, even though it is still on the positive side since the last census was taken.

Since 2010, Ellis County has added 614 residents, even while losing 40 in the past year.

Thomas County has seen increases in both periods, while Russell County has gone the other way. Sherman County saw declines last year, but still is up from 2010.

Meanwhile, Wallace County -- the second smallest county in the state and a small player in the energy boom -- had the biggest growth in the region.

Wallace County's population, while still small, saw a 5.7-percent increase since 2010 and a 2.5-percent increase from 2012 to 2013.

The year-over-year increase amounts to only 39 people, while the increase since 2010 figures out to an increase of 86 residents.

Wallace County Commissioner Mike Cowles credits the increase to high school students who have left to go away to college, got married and now are returning home and having children.

A lot of children, Cowles said.

"We've got a slug of kids," he said of Wallace County's fresh new crop of young residents.

He said former residents are returning and taking careers in medicine, business or going back to work on the farms where they were raised.

Weskan, he said, has seen a dramatic increase in preschool children, the result of children who were raised on farms in the area returning home and either taking over operations or joining the farm.

He's heard of preschoolers numbering "in the 20s or low 30s" in the Weskan school district area, which has approximately only 100 students in the entire school.

"We've not had very many moving out," Cowles said, "unless we have to go bury them someplace."

As the man who is responsible for U-Haul rentals in the region, he's got a good handle on where trucks and trailers are coming from and where they're going.

"Normally, we are gathering equipment here," he said.

Trucks and trailers going out of the region typically are being rented by people from outside Wallace County.

"It gives you a handle on the migration of people," he said of seeing where the rentals go.

While Cowles credits the state's Rural Opportunity Zone program for bringing a few people into the county, he said most were headed that way anyway.