With Grand Island now being bumped up to metropolitan status, Norfolk has become the second-biggest micropolitan area in Nebraska.
The way the U.S. Census Bureau sees it, there are metropolitan areas and there are micropolitan areas.
A micropolitan area is defined as a core community or cluster of at least 10,000 people that has a high degree of social and economic integration, such as commuters, from neighboring counties. When the core urban area within that cluster reaches 50,000 or more in population, it becomes a metropolitan area.
The U.S. Census Bureau recognizes nine micropolitan regions in Nebraska. The Norfolk micropolitan area is made up of Madison, Pierce and Stanton counties.
Metropolitan and micropolitan figures aren’t just terms that community leaders can use to talk up their cities. They actually are useful for understanding economic practices and social patterns.
David Drozd, a research coordinator at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said researchers study micropolitan and metropolitan areas.
When looking at Nebraska’s expansive territory, researchers look at regional centers where there is a lot of economic activity, such as people coming for shopping or entertainment.
Regional centers are important to Nebraska, he said. What seems to be happening in the state is that places that have a college or university have more people migrating from rural areas. Northeast Community College in Norfolk, for example, would bring some migration to the Norfolk area, Drozd said.
Also with the micropolitan areas, the U.S. Census looks at commuting patterns from contiguous or adjacent counties. If those counties have more than 25 percent of workers commute into the central county, they are considered an outlying micropolitan county, which is what has occurred with Pierce and Stanton counties being linked with Norfolk, Drozd said.
The commuter flows are based on the household commuter surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Lee Klein, chairman of the Madison County board of commissioners, said he is familiar with the term “micropolitan area” and agrees with the concept of several communities or counties being considered part of one region.
Klein said there is a lot of interaction between Norfolk and the rest of Madison County and Stanton and Pierce counties that includes jobs, shopping, economic and other interests.
“All of us are part of it, and it goes both ways,” Klein said. “Without it (going both ways), we don’t survive.”
Klein said as an example of the way several of these entities work together, consider the Northeast Industrial Highway, which covers Madison and Stanton counties and is near Pierce County.
The first phase of that highway was completed last summer. When finished, the new highway will provide a route from Highway 35 to Highway 81, bypassing Norfolk. The 4.5-mile highway is being designed to accommodate truck traffic to steel and metal plants and ethanol industries located in the area.
It’s important to remember that all three counties and the region are on the same plane, Klein said. What benefits one area has a “spillover effect” that helps the other areas, he said.
Shane Weidner, Norfolk city administrator, said he doesn’t know if any studies have ever been completed, but he knows from what he sees that there is a high level of interaction between Norfolk, the rest of Madison County and surrounding counties.
“In general, I know the Norfolk area draws a tremendous amount of support from the area towns and quite a ways beyond (Madison, Pierce and Stanton counties),” Weidner said. “We have interaction with places like West Point, Verdigre, Wayne and O’Neill. It goes in all ways and well beyond the three counties.”
Norfolk depends on the area cities and counties, Weidner said, and they, in turn, depend on Norfolk.
“Decisions we make affect them and vice versa,” he said.
Drozd said in Nebraska, the metro areas seem to be performing well in terms of population, the micropolitan areas are holding their own and the rural areas are losing population.
Only 33 of the state's 93 counties gained population between 2011 and 2012, including Madison County. Nevertheless, Madison County’s gain was not enough to offset mixed results in Pierce and Stanton counties.
“Usually that’s the way it is,” Drozd said, “with the growth usually in one county.”
Drozd said it is interesting to note that Nebraskans are continuing the pattern of moving from rural areas into more clusters of populations. The majority of people now live in metro areas in Nebraska — even though people tend to think of Nebraska as a rural state, he said.
So given the migrating patterns, could there be a day when Columbus and Platte County become part of the Norfolk micropolitan area or vice versa, especially since Platte County borders Madison County?
Drozd said it is highly unlikely.
“In order for those two territories to be merged, we would have to see a sizable amount of commuting between Madison and Platte counties,” he said. “I don’t think that will happen anytime soon.”