Des Moines' suburbs have seen dramatic population gains since 2000, while rural Iowa has continued a historical trend of losing residents to urban areas. There also has been significant population growth among minority groups, particularly Latinos, and also among African-Americans and Asians.
Dallas County was Iowa's fastest-growing county with more than 66,000 residents, up 62.3 percent over the past decade. The Dallas County suburb of Waukee ballooned to 13,790 people, up 169 percent. Ankeny, West Des Moines, Johnston and other Des Moines suburbs also were among the growth leaders, along with eastern Iowa communities such as North Liberty and Tiffin near Iowa City.
Des Moines' population topped 203,000, up 2.4 percent from the last census.
Statewide population in 2010 was up 4.1 percent, the first time the census has topped 3 million.
Dallas County's growth has been fueled by job opportunities and a hometown feel, say Tiffany and Dan Briggs.
The couple moved to Waukee in 2002 after graduating from Simpson College in Indianola. A job offer for Dan at the city's high school teaching chemistry prompted the relocation, but over the past eight years, Waukee has become home, said Tiffany Briggs.
"We're both from Iowa, and, for as big as it's getting, Waukee still has that small-town feeling," she said. "It's a good place to live."
Throughout the year, the couple and their four children attend community celebrations and parades at the city's downtown Triangle Park. A trained teacher who provides in-home day care services, Tiffany Briggs hopes more shopping outlets will soon accompany the latest surge of residential growth.
"It's still a long way to a Walmart of Target," she said, adding that she hopes the city will provide community amenities, such as an aquatic center.
Why numbers matter
The data are significant because they provide an official tally down to the neighborhood level, said Gary Krob, who oversees the State Data Center of Iowa. While there have been estimates of Iowa's population, race and other statewide data over the past decade, the census is the most accurate count, Krob said.
It is used in calculating payments of state road tax money to cities and counties, and for awarding grants through other state and federal programs, officials said. The loss of rural population is also a strong indicator that more school consolidations are likely in rural Iowa in the future because school financial aid is provided on a per-pupil basis.
The count also plays a big role in Iowa politics. The new data will be used to redraw the boundaries of Iowa's congressional and legislative districts, and in some cities and counties it will be used to realign districts for city council and county supervisor seats. It also means Iowa will lose one of its five congressional seats to a faster growing state. That could force two of Iowa's incumbent congressmen to square off against each other in the 2012 election.
Rural losses continue
Rural Iowa's population declines continued a trend seen in past census counts. Sixty-six of the state's 99 counties lost population over the decade. Pocahontas County's registered the biggest losses. Its population fell to 7,310, down 15.6 percent. Others with declines of at least 10 percent included the western Iowa counties of Sac, Calhoun, Aubudon and Adams.
Iowa State University economist Liesel Eathington said those population trends reflect a pattern that's become common throughout the Midwest. One factor is that mechanized agriculture requires increasingly fewer farmers to till ever-larger tracts of land.
"This is the natural progression of the economies that we have seen for more than 100 years. We have larger cities, and more people are attracted to them because they have more employment opportunities," Eathington said. "We are seeing similar things happen in retail trade, health care and other services that are delivered through larger and larger places. We don't have as many small, self-sufficient little trade centers out there anymore."
Are fears overblown?
The declining rural population would seemingly translate into more political clout in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids areas. But Jeff Schott, director of the University of Iowa's Institute of Public Affairs and a former Marion city manager, said he wouldn't bet on it.
"I have been in Iowa a long time now and every census I hear that rural Iowa is going to lose influence and the urban areas are going to gain influence. But you know, it has never been quite as dramatic as some people think," Schott said.
But the numbers suggest the problem may be worsening. The 2000 census showed 45 Iowa counties lost population compared with a decade earlier. That's 21 fewer than were recorded this time around.
Despite its dwindling residents, Shirley Phillips, executive director of Sac County Economic Development and Tourism in Sac City, doesn't buy the idea that rural Iowa is dying. She said the state's rural economy remains viable and its communities are good places to live.
Phillips ticked off a list of Sac County employers that remain strong, including Cookies Food Products of Wall Lake; Evapco Inc. of Lake View, which makes air exchange units for the food industry; Lindell Plastics of Odebolt and VT Industries of Sac City, which makes countertops.
Although there has been periodic debate about merging some of Iowa's 99 counties as rural populations continue to decline, Peterson doesn't expect that to happen. But with 947 Iowa cities, many with small populations, he expects some rural county governments could assume responsibilities traditionally performed by municipalities, including law enforcement, city administration, sewer, water and road operations.
Sprawl a concern
The sprawl of suburbs into what has traditionally been agricultural areas means that more Iowa farmland is being developed into residential and commercial property. And as people move into rural areas, more conflicts are popping up in places in Story County and elsewhere in Iowa, said Bill Peterson, executive director of the Iowa State Association of Counties.
"You have a fair number of city people moving into acreages in all sorts of places. What if you move out there and a person farming that land for the last 100 years decides to put up a hog confinement facility? There are a lot of those types of issues that county supervisors need to deal with as sort of a transition," Peterson said.
Reporter Mary Stegmeir contributed to this report.