Growth has long been a contentious issue in Normal, but continued growth is a reality, as shown by the results of the latest special census. For the first time, Normal's magic number has topped 50,000, nearly double what it was 35 years ago.
Judging by continued construction plans, Normal will continue to grow. No amount of candidates calling for "controlled" growth will change that.
Normal is an attractive community. That is something in which residents should take pride rather than experiencing dread.
As long as Normal keeps growing, the council must find resources to deal with that growth.
The special census was a wise investment. The census cost the town $123,445. But Normal expects to gain more than four and a half times that amount in increased state revenue in the first year alone. That money - from motor fuel and income taxes - is distributed on a per capita basis.
Deciding where to count noses was easy. The special census focused on 18 subdivisions that didn't exist when the 2000 census was taken. That's right " 18 subdivisions have opened in Normal in just five years. The new count put the town's population over the magic number of 50,000 for the first time. The additional 5,099 people put the town's population at 50,485, a 11.23 percent increase over the official count in 2000.
The money isn't exactly a windfall. Those additional people mean additional demands on town services and infrastructure. But at least Normal has a better shot at getting its fair share of state and federal money doled out according to population.
Bloomington is following a similar strategy, with a special census scheduled to begin in February. The city expects to boost its population figures by about 7,800 people, bringing in an additional $700,000 annually.
Pamela Reese, Normal's assistant city manager, thinks completion of Bloomington's special census, combined with Normal's numbers, will cause the biggest impact in making the area more attractive to potential employers. The bigger numbers mean businesses looking for a new location will see the Twin Cities as "more of an urban area," she said.
Marty Vanags, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Bloomington-Normal, said the size of the available workforce is more important to a business than population figures, but "population has an indirect relationship" because such growth attracts more services, which attracts an educated workforce, which attracts business.
The Town of Normal Comprehensive Plan, being prepared by the McLean County Regional Planning Commission is only in the draft stage, with a hearing scheduled in January. But, with these new figures, Normal has surpassed projected growth of 48,200 by 2005. The draft figures estimate the town's population will reach 59,300 by 2025. The City of Bloomington Comprehensive Plan projects that city's population will be 92,500 by 2025.
In a fast-growing community such as Bloomington-Normal it makes no sense to wait 10 years for updated census figures. Special census counts not only yield increased revenue, they also allow cities to better plan to meet the needs of the growing populace.