Census: Immigrants contributing to suburban boom

Playground fun
First-graders, from left, Franciso Diaz Xique, Luke Wilts and Samira Ahmed chase one another on the playground at Red Oak Elementary School in Shakopee, Minn. Wednesday, April 6, 2011. The 2010 Census shows people of color now make up nearly a quarter of the metro's population, and much of that population is increasingly moving to the suburbs.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

An increase in immigrants and other diverse communities is contributing to population growth in some second and third ring suburbs in the Twin Cities metro.

Burnsville resident Andrea Grazzini-Walstrom, 47, has witnessed the change in her community. She grew up in Burnsville and after moving away for a time, she's now back and raising her own children here. A few nights a week, she meets her friend Halima Ali at the YMCA for a basketball game.

Dressed in a blue floral headscarf and long skirt, 34-year old Ali is originally from Somalia and moved to Minnesota more than 15 years ago.

"Minnesota is my home and I like it," said Ali. "And it's a good place to live."

Before heading to the court, the women say they are glad the YMCA brought them together.

"I pretty much know that her family will be here and we always get a lot of talking in somehow," said Grazzini-Walstrom.

Swinging on playground
First-graders, from left, Olivia Pistulka pushes Marisa Jaeger as Yasmine Teekasingh swings on the playground at Red Oak Elementary School in Shakopee, Minn. Wednesday, April 6, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Connections between native Minnesotans and newcomers to the state aren't just happening in Burnsville.

The 2010 Census shows people of color now make up nearly a quarter of the metro's population, and much of that population is increasingly moving to the suburbs.

While many first-ring suburbs lost population between 2000 and 2010, some second and third ring suburbs saw tremendous growth.

Nearly one-third of the population growth in the last decade — more than 68,000 residents — was concentrated in just five cities: Shakopee, Woodbury, Lakeville, Blaine and Maple Grove.

Metropolitan Council researcher Libby Starling said much of that growth correlated closely with new residential construction.

"Many of the areas that are adding new housing units, new homes, therefore new households, are among those that have been seeing the most significant growth in diverse populations because they are creating new housing opportunities that are drawing new people from everywhere," said Starling.

Shakopee topped the list with more than 16,500 new residents.

Mayor John Schmitt said Shakopee's population is also younger than it was a decade ago. He thinks the growth has helped Shakopee weather the recession somewhat better than other cities.

"Simply because we have a certain amount of growth that will offset some of the declines," said Schmitt. "We still all have to flush out the mortgage situation and we are all dealing with that but certainly it helps offset that."

Loading the bus
Kindergarten students load a bus at Red Oak Elementary School in Shakopee, Minn. Wednesday, April 6, 2011. With the rapid population growth of Shakopee in the last decade, the community's kindergarten classes are nearly double the size of the graduating classes.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Even in the downturn, the city continues to add new housing units. Still, officials admit the dramatic growth is not without challenges.

Shakopee's St. Francis Regional Medical Center has seen an exponential spike in demand for services since the late 1990s. Nearly every department at the hospital has been added onto at least once and the campus has more than doubled since 1996.

During the same period, hospital officials say in-patient admissions are up 125 percent, and surgeries are up more than 90 percent. Births doubled from 600 to 1,200, emergency admissions went from 10,000 to 30,000 and urgent care visits went from 1,200 to 9,000 — a 550 percent increase. The hospital has also doubled its staff and added additional language translators.

Shakopee schools superintendent Jon McBroom said the district is opening a new elementary school this year, and may need to add a new high school soon, too.

"When you are bringing in 600 kindergarten students a year, and you are graduating 400 seniors, there is sort of this inherent growth and we project that to continue even if another house is not built in the foreseeable future here," said McBroom.

As they add schools, they'll redraw district lines. But so far, McBroom said they have not experienced the kind of anger over boundary changes that some communities have.

A parent group in Eden Prairie recently threatened a lawsuit, after the school board voted to move more than 1,000 students to different elementary schools in what the administration said is an effort to balance enrollment and demographics.

Back in Burnsville, Grazzini-Walstrom is eating lunch at her favorite Mediterranean restaurant.

She's a writer and runs a business dedicated to fostering dialogue between diverse groups and promoting civic engagement, so she thinks a lot about how people can learn to get along across real or perceived boundaries.

She said while not everyone in town welcomes the new neighbors, overall, Burnsville has done a great job attracting and assimilating newcomers.

"As a whole, I think we are exceedingly interested in growing culturally and we are interested in being something more than just the old white suburb," said Grazzini-Walstrom.

Metropolitan Council researchers say whether second and third ring suburbs will continue to grow in population and diversity depends on the state's economic recovery.

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Embedded below is a document from the Metropolitan Council with more details and maps of demographics in the Twin Cities.

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