Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Iowa’s “Agro-Metro” Future

Net Domestic Migration, 2000-2009, in-migration in gray, out-migration in red. Darker shading denotes intensity.

My latest post is up over at New Geography, entitled “Iowa’s Agro-Metro Future.”

This piece discusses how Iowa is transforming from its traditional small town and rural roots into a metro-dominated state, with an agricultural sector that remains powerful, but increasingly dominated by big business farming. Though flying under the national radar, metro Iowa – particularly Des Moines – is flourishing, while much of non-metro Iowa continues to wither away.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development

10 Responses to “Iowa’s “Agro-Metro” Future”

  1. George Mattei says:


    As I have posted previously, I moved from Connecticut to Columbus about 12 years ago. Moving here opened my eyes up to the coastal bias that is very real in this nation. I had no impression of Columbus prior to moving, but found a vibrant city.

    Since then I have paid more attention to other cities that might qualify as a “hick town” to a coastal resident. Des Moines definitely is one of those that I have heard a lot of good things about.

    I’m glad you posted this article. It’s good to challenge pre-conceived notions and show people what places are really like. Folks on the coasts should also be aware that Des Moines and other similar cities are outperforming them, and may be where America’s future lies.

  2. Ben says:

    As a native Iowan living in Chicago thank you for some commentary on my home state. I love Chicago and plan to be here a long time but I keep up to date on Iowa and always like new information.

    One question: What is the definition of in-migration and out-migration and how do they differ from population % changes? I ask because one or two areas stick out to me as being redish(out-migration) even though it appears they had population growth from 2000-2009?

  3. Ben, the migration data is from the Census Bureau’s annual population estimates program. Population change has three components:

    – Natural Increase (births – death)
    – Net Migration (domestic + international)
    – Residual

    Ignoring residual for now, most places have natural increase because more people are being born than dying. Most places also have positive international migration (more people moving from overseas than moving out to an international destination). Thus it is very easy to have positive population growth even with high net domestic out-migration. Domestic migration is what is on my chart.

    For example, the Chicago metro area has extremely high net domestic outmigration, but is still growing (albeit slowly) because of the other factors. In Iowa, many of my red places are shrinking, but others just have very slow growth and an aging population.

  4. Jarrett says:

    My mother’s childhood farm in Wayne County (white on your map) is now rented pastureland with a ruined house. People from Des Moines have expressed interest in buying it as “hunting land,” but she is trying to sell it as a wildlife preserve. Both markets, I suppose, are inseparable from the presence of urban centers with urban values.

    Meanwhile, the nearby towns continue shrinking in population.

    As near as I can tell, the only reason Iowa doesn’t show big job losses in the GFC was that it never had much of a boom beforehand. Insurance (big in both Des Moines and metro Omaha) is a very stable industry. Farming prospers, but at ever-lower levels of labor-intensiveness.

    Finally, I was puzzled by your use of the term “Great Plains.” I always understood the Great Plains to include Nebraska but not Iowa, and Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, seems to agree:

    It’s an important distinction for agriculture. The Great Plains really are agriculturally-challenged for anything besides large-scale ranching, and there are credible scenarios in which much of it could return to wilderness. But Iowa is quite fertile and will remain prime and diverse ag land in almost any scenario.

  5. Jarrett, Iowa doesn’t share the Great Plains water issues, but I do think it is a sort of transition zone. It has in common with them that it features mostly smaller metro areas – not a single city greater than one million people – and large, remote, sparsely populated rural territories. In that light, I think it’s kind of a transitional area.

  6. Chris Barnett says:

    The eastern-tier counties of the “Plains” states (Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas) are where the big metros are, and they’re really more Midwestern. The “transition” zone is probably the 98th-to-100th Meridian because of the fall-off in annual precipitation.

    The Wikipedia article favors a more-expansive UNL definition, which gives a little too much credence to state lines and not enough to water issues IMO.

    This is the long way of saying, Iowa’s clearly Midwestern. It has more in common with Central Lower Michigan or rural North-Central Indiana and Illinois than with (say) Central Nebraska.

  7. Jarrett says:

    Aaron. Interesting. You’re a demographic geographer at heart, while I’m a natural geographer at heart! To me the Great Plains is defined by a certain kind of ecosystem, while to you it’s defined by a settlement pattern. No judgment there, just interesting!

  8. DBR96A says:

    What the hell happened to Cedar Rapids?

  9. JD says:

    Nothing is wrong with Cedar Rapids. Despite the massive flood there was a Domestic In-Migration of 3,600 people.

    Davenport and Sioux City are performing no where near what that graphic is showing. They should both be red not black.

  10. JD, thanks for the catch. I discovered that I generated that map off the wrong query. I have corrected it. Thanks again.

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