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Day County may see first population rise in 90 years

By Amanda Fanger, Reporter and Farmer [1]

Day County is no stranger to the epidemic sweeping through the Midwest, known as Rural Flight. The county has consistently lost population for the past 90 years. But according to a 2011 estimate, the area is looking at its first increase in population since 1920. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 population estimates Webster and Day County have increased half a percent since the 2010 national census.

“That number is an encouragement. It gives a little more peace of mind,” said Mike Grosek, Mayor of Webster, of the estimated half a percent population increase for both the county and the city since the last census.

In 1920, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded a population in Day County of 15,194. That was the most people ever recorded living here. Since then, the population has gone down by 92 percent. It is estimated that there are 5,741 people here today.

While the spread of industrialized agriculture is one of the main causes of rural flight, Grosek says, Day County farmers also have faced drastic flooding issues.

“People are being driven off their farms,” he said. “Farming is definitely our number one economic stimulus around here.”

Industrialized farming has practically driven out the concept of a family farm. Whereas entire families could make it on 160 acres, the average size of a South Dakota farm today is 1,374 acres.

The makeup of families have changed too, Grosek said. “People are having less children these days,” he said.

The last population increase that the city of Webster saw was in 1980 with a 7.3 percent increase from the previous national census. There were 2,417 recorded to be living in Webster in 1980. However, in 1990, 400 people had left, a 16.5 percent decrease.

Melissa Fose, interim director of the Webster Area Economic Development Corporation says, “Some people just aren’t as interested in living in a rural area.”

Fose herself moved to Webster last year from the St. Paul area because she wanted to live in the Webster area. “I just loved the area,” she said.

The Census Bureau estimates that Webster gained 10 residents between April 2010 and July 2011.

“You read that across Rural America, the numbers are decreasing and it’s kind of sad,” Grosek said. “Hopefully this is an indication that it’s about to turn around. Hopefully we’re looking to gain that population back.”

The Economic Development Corporation is concentrating on getting the word out. Fose continued, “Rural is not bad! Webster is great!”

To promote the area, Fose says the Economic Development Corporation partners with the Webster Area Chamber of Commerce, focuses on promoting their website through newspaper and radio advertisements and is using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to spread the word about the area.

Employment advertisement is one area they’ve begun focusing on more and more. Last year, there were around 90 job listings they helped promote.

“2012 was great for Webster as far as jobs,” Fose said.

The city of Webster has been working with Economic Development, according to Grosek.

“The Development Corporation  has done anything they possibly can to encourage people to stay here and come back,” he said. “The main emphasis is to try to entice people. This is a great place, there’s a great school system, a hospital, retirement. We have a good main core of retail businesses and manufacturing. Things are strong in the area.”

In addition to all that, Fose says the recreational opportunities abound, especially with the new city pool.

“There’s stuff here that is definitely enticing,” she said.