Rock County population holds steady, Luverne gains

By Sara Quam

Census 2000 tallies leave Rock County - like most others in southwest Minnesota - with fewer people than 10 years ago.

The county's final count was 9,721. That's 85 fewer than the 1990 census. The population is largely an adult one, too, with 7,163 ages 18 and older.

Luverne is still the largest city in the county with 4,617, up 5.36 percent from 1990.

Luverne's population was one of a few bright spots in the census. Steen, Magnolia and Beaver Creek were other Rock County towns experiencing a plus rather than minus in their populations.

Most of Rock County felt a population dip in either 2000 or 1990. Steen, however, holds the honor of being the only town to steadily increase its population since 1980: going from 153 to 176 in 1990 and to 182 in 2000.

Marlin Elbers, Steen councilman, joked that the city will have even more bragging rights if its population reaches the 200 mark.

"It's just a nice little town to live in. The last number of years there's been more families coming and going. IÕve lived in Steen all my life, and there are some people I donÕt know," Elbers said.

He guessed that some people find less-expensive housing and the strong church good reasons to move to Steen. The proximity to Sioux Falls and Luverne are also positives for the small community.

Overall, Minnesota's population rose by 12.4 percent during the decade to 4,919,479. The largest growth occurred in the suburbs around the Twin Cities, taking up almost 45 percent of the state's entire population.

Rock County is still a homogeneous corner of the state, with 97 percent of the population being white. Statewide, the number of minority citizens doubled, rising to 582,336 or 11.8 percent.

A population plus in Luverne

Considering that Luverne lost a few businesses during the '90s, gaining 235 people is a good sign. But better signs are found across the border in South Dakota, where Brandon, for instance, grew by the thousands instead of hundreds.

Luverne Mayor Glen Gust said the news for Luverne is good, but he's not ready to celebrate just yet. He said creating job opportunities will make the city even better by the next census.

"By creating jobs, you bring people to town, and it trickles down through the community to places like retail," Gust said.

He said he's hopeful because Luverne grew more than most neighboring cities its size.

Luverne Chamber Director Dave Smith would like to see countywide growth as well as continued growth in Luverne.

"I think the interesting thing for us was the growth of Luverne over Pipestone," Smith said.

Pipestone has steadily had a greater population than Luverne, but this census dropped to 4,280, compared with Luverne's 4,617.

The Luverne school system has been a solid draw for many of its residents. Superintendent Vince Schaefer said the population he most watches is for ages 0 to 5, which the district counts itself.

"We'll continue to be a good school academically as well as in the physical plant," Schaefer said. "We can be a good place for children and families in the community as well as for businesses."

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