TOPEKA, Kan. — Most Kansas counties lost residents over the past 10 years as the state’s population concentrated in more populous places, including the Kansas City area, new census figures released Thursday showed.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s once-a-decade count of the nation’s population showed that 80 of the state’s 105 counties declined in population since 2010, 16 of them by more than 10%. Most of those counties were rural.
Five of the top 10 fastest-growing counties were in or close to the Kansas City metropolitan area. The state’s most populous county, Johnson County, has affluent Kansas City suburbs that have been growing for decades, and its population grew another 12.1% in the past 10 years.
Census figures show that Kansas saw a 3% increase in population over 10 years, to almost 2.94 million. Population shifts within the state mean a shift in political clout away from rural areas and toward Kansas City and a few other areas when the Legislature redraws political boundaries next year.
Zack Pistora, the interim executive director of the Kansas Rural Center, said younger people move to urban areas or college towns and stay for jobs, then attract other younger people.
“You kind of get a domino effect of losing more and more people,” he said of the state’s rural areas.
Pistora said population losses in rural areas are fueled by a lack of high-speed internet service, shortages of housing, relatively few cultural activities and greater concentration and corporate ownership in farming.
And in Stanton County, along the Colorado border in southwest Kansas, County Clerk Sandy Barton said oil and production in the area has steadily decreased for more than a decade. The county saw a 6.4% drop in its population.
“They’re just not hiring as many people and those jobs aren’t as stable any longer in our area,” said Gina Shores the county clerk in neighboring Morton County, where the population dropped 16.5% over the decade, the state’s largest decline.
Meanwhile, 350 miles to the northeast, a piece of western Pottawatomie County made it the state’s fastest-growing county, with a 17.3% increase over the decade — the only county with more growth than Johnson County.
That was thanks to a small piece of the city of Manhattan with U.S. 24 running through it that has drawn big-box retail stores and restaurants.
The Crestview Christian Church saw the growth coming, and “wanted to be right in the middle of it,” said Lead Pastor Devin Wendt. It moved from a north Manhattan site it was outgrowing to the booming area in Pottawatomie County in March, two weeks before Easter.
“There’s a brand new elementary school just a half-mile away from us as well,” Wendt said. “… There’s cul-de-sacs and neighborhoods popping up all along the Highway 24 corridor.”
Johnson County has seen its population nearly triple in the past 50 years, something local officials attribute to good schools and local amenities.
In Lenexa, the city has developed a new downtown, with shops, a recreation center, a library branch and a school swimming center. City Manager Beccy Yocham said the area also has seen “a ton” of growth in warehousing and moving goods.
Spring Hill School District in southern Johnson County recently opened a new elementary school and plans to open a new middle school in 2023. Superintendent Wayne Burke said people like having a small-town atmosphere while having suburbs close, and the district has seen its student count grow during his seven-tenure from about 2,500 to more than 3,600.
“We have a lot of starter homes, a lot of new development here,” Burke said.