City’s growth lags behind neighbors
De Soto growth rate is the slowest in the growth area of Johnson County, according to figures released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bureau's latest numbers, which estimated populations for July 2002, show De Soto adding 172 residents since the official 2000 Census and a population jump of 77 from July 2001 to July 2002. Those population increases represent growth of 3.8 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.
De Soto's gains pale in comparison to other cites in western and southern Johnson County. In the two years since the official census, Spring Hill added 630 residents for a 23.1 percent increase; Shawnee grew at a 9.8 percent rate with 4,719 new residents; Olathe had a 9 percent growth rate with an actual population increase of 8,415; and Gardner added 1,280 residents for 13.8 percent growth. De Soto was even outpaced by Edgerton in the extreme southwest section of the county, which grew at 5.8 percent with 85 new residents in the last two years.
Johnson County cities declining in population in the latest Census Bureau update were confined to the extreme northeast part of the county and include such cities as Mission, Mission Hills, Westwood Hills, Merriam and Prairie Village.
Sara Ritter, director of the De Soto Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council, said she was surprised by the city's slow growth rate indicated in the Census Bureau update, especially in light of a County Economic Research update, especially in light of a County Economic Research Institute estimate that the city's population grew to 6,130 in the three years since the official census.
"The thing to remember is that both figures are just estimates," she said.
The CERI estimate was of the 66018 zip code, which included rural areas and not Clearview City, Ritter said. It was also a 2003 estimate, she added.
The figures and growth rate they represented were of great importance to her in her role of attracting retailers to De Soto, Ritter said.
For example, the targeted industry study Ritter presented to the De Soto City Council in May included a wish list of new retail establishments. Easily at the top of the list developed at a meeting of community residents was an "upscale" grocery store such as a Price Chopper, Hen House or Dillons.
While preparing the targeted industry study, consultant Lisa Franklin talked with a representative of Associated Wholesalers Grocery and Price Chopper. That representative said the grocery wholesaler considered the population within a two-and-a-half- to three-mile trade area when looking at possible store sites. It wanted 10,000 to 12,000 customers within that radius, Franklin wrote in the targeted industry study.
"The trade area study we just did showed were over 6,000," Ritter said.
Tom Brown, owner of the De Soto Apple Market, said he was affiliated with the Associated Wholesalers Groceries. He said he would welcome added rooftops, which was a sentiment Brown said he suspected he shared with other De Soto retailers.
"We would love to be able to build and expand in De Soto," he said. "We just haven't reached that point yet."
Franklin also contacted Wal-Mart, which was second on the wish list. That company's expansion was driven by how its current stores within a region were faring and less on population figures. When a store got so busy that it was difficult to stock shelves and maintain the facility, a new store in the area was opened. Franklin wrote that therefore the success of Wal-Mart stores in Olathe, Shawnee and Lenexa would play a role in any decision the company made to expand into De Soto.
Ritter found a silver lining in Franklin's report, despite the obvious conclusion that De Soto does not yet have the population to attract those retailers its residents appeared to want.
"Both Price Chopper and Wal-Mart said they were aware of us," she said. "Even though they might not be ready to locate here, they are looking at us."