COLUMBIA — Columbia remains the fifth largest city in Missouri, but it's gaining ground. Growing at a rate of more than 28 percent over the past 10 years, the city has more than 100,000 residents now. That's no surprise to a lot of people.
"It validates, I think, what we already know. Columbia is a great place to live," Mayor Bob McDavid said.
Columbia has increased in population by 23,969 people since 2000 and now sits at a total population of 108,500. This is an increase from 84,531 in 2000, or about 28 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Despite that growth, Columbia remained the fifth largest city in Missouri, a position it has held since 2000. Kansas City tops the list with 459,787 residents. St. Louis, Springfield and Independence follow, according to the 2010 census.
It's a good bet that Columbia will pass Independence by the time the 2020 census is conducted. Independence, which tops Columbia by only 8,330 people, saw much less growth in the past 10 years. Meanwhile, Lee's Summit falls behind Columbia by 17,136 people but grew at about the same rate. It added 20,664 people between 2000 and 2010.
Still, Columbia had the second most raw population growth in numbers of people since 2000, behind O'Fallon. In contrast, St. Louis lost about 28,895 residents since the last census.
"I think Columbia is growing just right," Melissa Bertalott, parish secretary for Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, said. "I view Columbia as a transient community, so I think it will fluctuate enough so it won't look like it's growing."
And if there is a sense of competition among cities to grow, Tim Kridel, a freelance writer, said he thinks it's not something residents pay much attention to.
"I think the competition is felt by the folks at REDI, Chamber of Commerce and the City Council," Kridel said. "I don't think the average Jane or Joe looks at that."
He also said Columbia residents shouldn't focus on whether their city is growing faster than others. It's more important to think about why and how it's growing.
Industries and Economy
McDavid said Columbia's economy has helped it remain among the five biggest Missouri cities during the past 10 years.
"We have a stable economic base, and I think that's why Columbia has done well," he said. "Our economy has not suffered as much as the national economy. We have a livability culture."
The education industry in Columbia has helped provide a stable and growing economy. The need for education, especially in today's highly competitive world where knowledge and skills are critical, will never go away, McDavid said. The main business that drives the community has a need for employment that will never be satisfied, he said.
Health care, which is the second biggest industry in Columbia, has drawn people from across Boone and other counties to the area, McDavid said.
Data from the annual American Community Survey complements the census findings. The survey supplanted the long-form census questionnaire as a means of collecting more specific information about the country's population.
The American Community Survey provides a breakdown of the broad fields in which people age 16 and older work. Here are the numbers for Columbia:
- Educational services, health care, and social assistance: 39.5 percent
- Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services: 9.8 percent
- Retail trade: 9.6 percent
- Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing: 9.2 percent
- Professional, scientific, management and administrative: 7 percent
Columbia's growth also draws attention from outside industries and businesses. The growth contributes to greater exposure, said Mike Brooks, president of Regional Economic Development Inc. The company works to recruit industries that will bring wealth to the community.
Brooks said companies noticing the growth will want to investigate what has caused Columbia to have a 28 percent growth and whether their businesses need to be in the market.
Hitting the 100,000 population mark can open Columbia to another category of the retail market. Some businesses won't go into markets with populations less than 100,000, Brooks said.
The community also has created a reputation for having knowledge-based economic growth, McDavid said.
Brooks and McDavid agreed that the opening of IBM in fall 2010 has been a positive knowledge-based business addition. IBM was able to provide jobs to people who have skills but couldn't find work or were losing work, McDavid said.
Once IBM is fully staffed, it will employ about 800 workers, according to its website. McDavid said those jobs will boost the rest of the economy as well.
"The modeling we have from the Federal Reserve suggests that when you bring in 800 knowledge-based jobs to an IBM facility, your next derivative is 600 support jobs to support those 800," he said.
While Columbia wants to continue to facilitate this type of community, McDavid said the city also must support entry-level and blue-collar jobs.
"We have to support the companies that are here, the companies that are not necessarily at the top of the pay scale and not the bottom either, like Kraft Foods," McDavid said. "These aren't the $200,000 a year jobs. These are the mainstay jobs of America, so we need to focus on them, too."
While incomes of $200,000 make up a small portion of the economy, the majority of household incomes in Columbia have remained between $50,000 to $74,999 during the past four years.
Hitting the 100,000-person mark was a big step for Columbia that could lead to quicker growth in the future, Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said.
"Once a community hits 100,000, it's very easy to balloon to 200,000 before you know it," Hoppe said. "So the future growth may be much faster now that we've hit 100,000."
Hoppe said she thinks Columbia will grow both up and out, but she hopes there will be less spreading out. Outward growth needs to be done wisely so that infrastructure won't encroach on farmland.
"I think a little bit of spreading out will always occur, but if it's planned so infrastructure is reduced then it's more viable," Hoppe said.
Kridel said his main concern with the growth is the possibility of an increase in traffic circulating the city and potentially causing road issues. He said a few decades ago Columbia seemed like a "ghost town" during breaks in MU's academic calendar.
"It used to be that during summer, Christmas and spring break, everyone would just clear out," he said, "but now it seems like people don't clear out. You still have that hustle and bustle."
Controlled and smart growth are key, McDavid said.
Allen Hahn, Woodridge Neighborhood Association chairman, agreed. "I think it's inevitable. I hope so far that the growth has been what we call 'smart growth,'" he said. "We simply have to recognize what's happening and do it as right as we can."
Columbia has grown significantly throughout the past 10 years, but Brooks said that doesn't matter.
"Columbia's a great place, that's the bottom line," Brooks said. "Whether they have a population of 110,000 or 80, it's a great place."
Not only has Columbia grown, but Boone County has seen growth over the years. Boone County moved up one spot in the ranking of county size in Missouri. The county is now ranked seventh with a population of 162,642, according to the 2010 census.
Boone County had 135,454 residents in 2000, according to 2000 census data.
St. Louis County has remained the biggest county with 998,954 people. Although it is No. 1, St. Louis County saw a 17,361 decrease in population over the past 10 years.