Census: Vegas boom fueled state's record growth

LAS VEGAS - A gambling-fueled boom in Las Vegas and Nevada's ballooning minority population helped drive the Silver State's record growth during the first decade of the millennium, according to an initial release of U.S. Census Bureau data Thursday.

The Las Vegas Valley cemented its position as the state's powerhouse as Clark County grew from 1.37 million to 1.95 million people, or 72 percent of all Nevadans. With Nevada poised to gain a fourth House member in Congress, Clark County's population represents nearly three congressional districts.

As Nevada's southern and western counties expanded, the state became more diverse, with its Hispanic population climbing 82 percent and the number of Asians increasing by 116 percent since 2000. Hispanics made up nearly 27 percent of all Nevadans last year, a nod to the group's projected influence in the upcoming 2012 national and local elections. They represented nearly 20 percent of all Nevadans in 2000.

With its population now at an estimated 2.7 million, 46 percent of Nevada's residents are minorities. In contrast, Nevada was 75 percent white in 2000 when its population was 2 million. Overall, people who identified as white grew by 284,802, while Hispanics of all races gained 322,531 people.

Nevada had the biggest growth spurt in the nation during the past decade at 35 percent, compared to U.S. growth of 9.7 percent.

"Some of those folks were trade workers, construction workers coming in here," said Bob Potts, assistant director at the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "Jobs are what create population growth."

The census data helps determine state redistricting and how federal funds for roads and schools are distributed.

Nevada's changing racial boundaries, meanwhile, could color future elections, school curriculum and neighborhood demographics.

Sanje Sedera, a Sri Lankan immigrant who recently founded the Asian American Democratic Caucus in Las Vegas, said Nevada's Asians want a say in community decisions.

"We are demanding attention," he said.

Counties along Nevada's western border also experienced record growth, with the largest gain of 50 percent unfolding in Lyon County, a short drive from the state capitol and Reno's tourism enclaves. Washoe, which includes Reno, remained the state's second largest county, but its share of the state's population shrank slightly from 17 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2010.

Only three of Nevada's 16 counties experienced population loss in the last decade. Tiny Lander, Mineral and Esmeralda counties, all with fewer than 5,800 people, had a combined loss of roughly 500 people.

In other changes, Henderson, Las Vegas' suburban neighbor, officially replaced Reno as the state's second largest city, with a 47 percent bump up from 2000.

More comprehensive data detailing the state's housing trends and school enrollment that could offer greater insight on why some counties soared while others sank will eventually be released.

"We don't have all the data we need to describe what's fully going on," said Jeff Hardcastle, the state demographer.

Nevada flourished during the first part of the 2000s as the casino industry boomed in Las Vegas. That growth cooled after 2007, when the housing bubble burst and consumer spending dropped. Both hurt the state's tourism and construction industries.

Nevada lost roughly 38,000 people from 2008 to 2009, according to state estimates.

"It was an interesting decade in that even though our population has virtually flattened out in the past three years we are still the fastest growing state," said Lorne Malkiewich, director of the state legislative counsel bureau, which helps define voting districts.

The changes will likely spark political battles between Nevada Democrats and Republicans and southern and northern Nevadans as the Legislature prepares to redraw its voting districts. Rural northern Nevada tends to vote for GOP candidates, while Democrats want to give more clout to populous communities in southern Nevada, where many minorities and other traditionally Democratic voters live.

Regardless of which party wins, the districts must be redrawn to reflect population shifts.

"Some of the areas in the developed areas are grossly out of balance," Malkiewich said.

In a pre-emptive strike, a group of residents filed a complaint against the state Thursday that said too many districts were overpopulated.


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