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County's population is changing

For several years in the 1990s, rapid population growth was a fact of life in Dakota County. New developments popped up and were filled, seemingly in a matter of months.

The county is still growing today, but the pace of that growth has slowed dramatically. With most of the county's developable land already filled with homes, much of the growth boom has moved to other nearby counties.

According to the county's biannual Community Indicators Report, Dakota County remains the third most populous county in Minnesota, accounting for 13.5 percent of the metro area population. But according to census estimates, 2008 was the first year since 1977 that the county's population grew by less than 1 percent.

Growth hasn't slowed uniformly, though. Some parts of the county have more room than others to expand. Among Dakota County cities with at least 10,000 residents Farmington continues to be among the fastest growing. According to Metropolitan Council, the city's population grew by 50 percent from 2000 to 2008, the fastest rate among all Dakota County cities.

Growth can impact the county in a number of ways. New residents mean more tax income, but they also mean a greater demand for services and more use of county roads. That doesn't necessarily go away down when the growth stalls.

"I don't know that these things slow down," said Debra Miller, management analyst for the county's office of planning and analysis management.

Growth can create other challenges, too. In Dakota County, the diversity of the population has increased significantly in recent years. According to the community indicators report nonwhite residents accounted for 12.7 percent of the county's population in 2008, up from 8.6 percent in 2000. And that number is likely to increase.

Part of that increase in diversity comes from an influx of non-native residents, many of whom speak little or no English. That can create challenges as county workers try to communicate with an audience that doesn't necessarily understand what they're saying.

"With multiple languages being spoken within the county, certainly you need to make efforts to have your services be available in multiple languages," Miller said. "Whether that's written documents or interpreters ... you'll see some of those changes in our service centers."

Documents and signs in county service centers are now written in multiple languages.

The composition of the county is changing in other ways, too. Residents are getting older. The median age of county residents has increased from 33.7 in 2000 to 35.9 in 2008.

Another sign of the aging population: after years of being a county of families with children, married couples without children are now the most common household type in the Dakota County. Parents have sent their children off to college or out into the world.

The county has also seen an increase over the past decade in the number of single residents both over 65 and under. Miller said the county is seeing more people living along for longer periods of time.

Add it all up, and the population of Dakota County is very different than it was 10 years ago.

"You don't necessarily see that (change)," Miller said. "You don't feel it on a day-to-day basis. At some point, we'll look around and say, 'Wow, it's different.'"

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606