Linn and Johnson counties saw solid population growth from 2010 to 2012 and remain among the most thriving communities in the state, according to new population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of Iowa’s 99 counties, 31 gained residents since 2010, according to the latest population estimates for counties, metropolitan and micropolitan areas made public Thursday. Seven counties — Polk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Scott, Story and Dubuque — accounted for 88.4 percent of the state’s population growth, said Gary Krob, coordinator of the State Data Center of Iowa, which is part of the State Library of Iowa.
Those counties contain urban population centers, keeping with recent trends, Krob said.
“Our urban counties are growing and our rural counties are declining,” Krob said.
Linn County’s population estimate for 2012 was 215,295, about 1.73 percent above its 2010 population estimate of 211,633. Johnson County’s population estimate for 2012 was 136,317, about 3.83 percent above its 2010 population estimate of 131,293.
Some of the Iowa counties with the greatest percent decline in population from 2010 to 2012 include Osceola, Fremont, Audubon, Adams and Calhoun counties. They all saw a 2.6 percent or greater population drop.
Dallas County, which sits west of Des Moines and shares an urban center with Polk County, was the 14th fastest growing county in the nation, Krob said. It saw its population increase from 2010 to 2012 by nearly 8 percent.
When looking at where Iowa is getting its growth, Krob said, most of it is coming from natural growth — more births than deaths — and international migration. It consistently sees declines in domestic migration — Iowa in 2012 saw 3,618 leave and go to other states while 4,265 people moved here from outside the country, according to the new data.
“We lose people to other states but gain people from other countries,” he said.
International immigrants are attracted to the Midwest, and Iowa specifically, for its low unemployment rate and cost of living, diverse economic sectors, and educational opportunities, said Amy Weismann, associate director for the University of Iowa’s Center for Human Rights.
The area also has quality schooling options for children and a sense of safety that some immigrants have never known, Weismann said.
“Especially for refugees, people come from places with violence and economic strife where they fear authorities,” she said. “Iowa is much less anxious and a more accommodating place to live and not only survive but thrive.”
Over time, Weismann said, Iowa has seen more and more international arrivals. Her husband, in fact, found his way to Iowa from Bosnia in 1995 and quickly felt comfortable and eventually at home.
“As a newcomer here, what I found was that people are really welcoming and friendly,” said Amir Hadzic, 45.
Hadzic was born and raised in Sarajevo but started looking for a way out when war enveloped his home in the early 1990s. He ended up in a refugee camp in Croatia, at which time the United States opened up a program for Bosnian refugees.
He landed a ticket to the United States in July 1995 and spent a few weeks in New York City before his future wife’s family invited him to Iowa.
“I came here, and the next day in The Gazette was an advertisement for a soccer coach at Mount Mercy,” he said. “Speaking of destiny.”
Hadzic got the job and called his cousin in New York: “I said I like the Midwest. It’s a slower pace after war.”
Today, Hadzic lives in Iowa City with his wife and is the assistant director for International Programs and Student Services at Mount Mercy University. He also is the men’s head soccer coach, and he coaches the boys’ soccer team at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids.
He said that when he first arrived in Iowa City, people asked why chose the Midwest from southeast Europe — like it was an odd decision.
“But I felt the opposite,” he said. “I needed a place to belong where people cared for me. And I definitely found that in the Midwest and in Iowa.”
Domestic migration can be a different story for Iowa and its communities, although Linn and Johnson counties have been able to buck the trend in some years.
In 2012, Linn County mirrored the state trend when it lost 141 people to domestic migration, ranking it 81st in the state that year. It still had a positive net migration thanks to its international immigration, which earned it 270 people.
Conversely, in 2011, Linn County saw the second highest domestic migration in the state when 1,124 people moved to the community from other U.S. communities.
Johnson County almost always sees increases in both domestic and international migration, which state data expert Krob said probably has to do with the university that sits in its population center. As for the Linn County ebbs and flows in domestic migration, Krob said he wouldn’t call anything a trend until it continues a few years.
“I don’t worry too much about year-to-year changes,” he said.
Pam Hinman, communications manager for the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said she also believes the 2012 decline in Linn County represented a “natural fluctuation in population.” There were no significant company downsizing events that would account for the drop, she said.
“The increase,” Hinman said, “shows people are attracted to the region’s job opportunities and quality of life.”
More thorough census data will be released in the spring and again in the summer. Officials say the numbers can be used by community leaders to gauge how their areas are changing and growing and to apply for grants and funding.