Minnesota has some of the most extreme examples of racial and ethnic change -- and changelessness -- in the nation, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday.
The area in and around Alexandria remains whiter than all but three of the nation's several hundred "micropolitan areas," a new Census Bureau invention meant to isolate small but regionally important population centers.
But of that same group, Worthington in the past decade saw the single fastest drop in its white population, accompanied by the fourth-fastest leap in Hispanic residents.
The numbers suggest that a different racial geography is developing across rural Minnesota, as aging whites head north to the lakes and young immigrants flood into, and have children in, other key regional centers in the center and south.
If they weren't attracting minorities, many of Minnesota's 16 micropolitan areas would be seeing outright declines in population.
"It's amazing to see the numbers coming out of school districts like Worthington or Willmar," said Myron Orfield, director of a University of Minnesota research institute that tracks racial change. "And really those places are a lot more integrated than the Twin Cities: They have to get along and share the same facilities, and in a certain sense are even happy to have the new people, while folks here seem more resentful."
The Twin Cities area has multiple times more growth in people of color than all of the cities in the rest of the state combined. But even much smaller numbers in areas unaccustomed to the change can reverberate.
According to the report, the nonwhite population of the St. Cloud metro area went from 7,860, or less than 5 percent of the population, to 16,740, almost 9 percent, between 2000 and 2010.
The census report, "Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010," singles out two Upper Midwest micropolitan areas, Alexandria (97 percent) and Spirit Lake, Iowa (98 percent), as ranking among the top five whitest of their kind in the United States.
In Alexandria, the city has is working with other groups to encourage more diversity. Karin Tank, city staff liaison to Alexandria's committee on cultural inclusiveness, said the city got involved after reports that "even in the medical community, or engineering positions, companies were recruiting nationally and then having a hard time keeping people [of color] here because they don't feel welcome. They like the community, they appreciate the job, but they don't feel they have a place here so they aren't staying. That's all anecdotal, but that's what we were hearing."
Worthington is singled out in the Census Bureau report for experiencing -- after decades of gradual change -- the largest single drop in its white population, from 83 percent of its total to 67 percent. That's a drop in raw numbers of nearly 3,000 people in a decade, at a time when the overall micropolitan population grew slightly.
At the same time, the number of Hispanics more than doubled, to more than 4,800, the fifth-fastest increase by share of population among the nation's micropolitan areas and the fastest in the Upper Midwest.
Nor is it just Hispanics. Worthington has immigrants from all over the globe, said Lakeyta Potter, integration and youth development coordinator for the local school district.
Although Hispanics are most numerous, she said, "it's Ethiopian, Oromo, Eritrean, Sudanese, folks from Ghana, from Uganda, from Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Thailand," with a Swift meatpacking plant as the main draw.
As a black woman who grew up in southwest Minnesota, in Windom and Worthington, Potter said she doesn't perceive the drop in whites as a form of flight in reaction to the growth in minorities, but rather the combination of aging and departures that are common in farm country.
"Worthington has come a long way with being more open and understanding of many different cultures," she said.
David Peterson • 952-746-3285