Last week, the US Census Bureau released the 2010 numbers for the State of Louisiana. Among other things, we learned that Alexandria, Pineville, and Rapides Parish all experienced population gains, which is positive news for our community. From the Census Bureau’s official press release:

Data for Louisiana show that the five most populous incorporated places and their 2010 Census counts are New Orleans, 343,829; Baton Rouge, 229,493; Shreveport, 199,311; Lafayette, 120,623; and Lake Charles, 71,993. New Orleans decreased by 29.1 percent since the 2000 Census. Baton Rouge grew by 0.7 percent, Shreveport decreased by 0.4 percent, Lafayette grew by 9.4 percent and Lake Charles grew by 0.3 percent.

The largest parish is East Baton Rouge with a population of 440,171. Its population grew by 6.6 percent since 2000. The other parishes in the top five include Jefferson, with a population of 432,552 (decrease of 5.0 percent); Orleans, population of 343,829 (decrease of 29.1 percent); Caddo, population of 254,969 (increase of 1.1 percent); and St. Tammany, population of 233,740 (increase of 22.2 percent).

For readers from Central Louisiana, here’s what the press release leaves out: Rapides Parish grew by nearly 4.2%; Pineville grew by nearly 5.3%, and Alexandria grew by nearly 3.0%. Among cities in Louisiana with populations over 45,000 people, Alexandria is one of the small few to post population growth. In all of Northern and Central Louisiana, only Bossier City outpaced its growth as a major city.

Please forgive all of the statistics, but they’re important for a few reasons.

Yesterday, The Town Talk, in a seemingly innocuous editorial, opined about the importance of reaching the 50,000 population threshold, noting that both Monroe and Alexandria had failed to do so in the 2010 Census. It’s slightly disingenuous to compare Monroe to Alexandria or Alexandria to Monroe. While Alexandria grew over the last ten years by nearly 3.0%, Monroe lost over 8.0% of its population. To be sure, Monroe has announced plans to challenge the results, but either way, clearly, Monroe has experienced a significant population loss during the last decade, while Alexandria has grown.

To put it in some perspective, according to the 2000 Census:

Monroe: 53,107

Alexandria: 46,342

Difference: 6,759+ Monroe

And the 2010 Census:

Monroe: 48,815

Alexandria: 47,723

Difference: 1,092+ Monroe

Put another way, during the last decade, Monroe has lost 4,292 people, while Alexandria has gained 1,381 people. At this pace, Alexandria could be larger than Monroe in less than three years.

Don’t get me wrong, though: I’m not disparaging the fine people of Monroe. Ultimately, in Louisiana, we’re all in the same boat. The economic vitality of Monroe affects our entire State, and as the hub of two major Louisiana universities, Monroe’s success also affects our State’s future.

Still, it’s unfair to compare a growing city that hasn’t had a population over 50,000 people in decades with a city that recently shrunk below the 50,000 mark for the first time in decades, which is precisely what The Town Talk did:

This is of note because the populations of Alexandria and Monroe officially have dropped below 50,000, according to just-released U.S. Census data. Alexandria has 47,723 residents, and Monroe is only slightly larger, at 48,815.

Of immediate concern is how much the figures will affect access to funding, primarily through the Community Development Block Grant program operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Like hundreds of other cities, both Louisiana cities rely on this funding for a range of projects.

First thing, according to the US Census, Alexandria’s population did not “drop below” the 50,000 mark; it’s been below that mark for over 30 years. Louisiana Tech conducted yearly population “estimates,” which use completely different methods, and during the last couple of years, they’ve pegged the Alexandria population at over 50,000 people. But again, it’s not the same thing as the Census, which is what the editorial, ostensibly, is concerned about.

Second, The Town Talk‘s premise is ill-conceived and somewhat ironic. Yes, there may be slight increases in federal CDBG funding as a result of hitting the 50,000 threshold, but there is also a battery of federally-funded incentives exclusively available for communities between 25,000 – 49,999, including USDA commercial loan guarantees of up to $25 million. Those are also important tools, and some would argue they are more productive than any small increases in CDBG funding.

But third and most importantly, what really matters is that our region is growing. When businesses decide to locate in an area, they don’t really care about population based on arbitrarily constructed political borders; they care about the population of the MSA and the reach of the MSA’s service area. When the government, non-profits, or foundations decide to provide grant funding for a needy project, they don’t care as much about the Census as they do about how many people the project affects.

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