The most recent U.S. Census figures — as well as damage to roads from the March flood — both reflect how much of a micropolitan community Norfolk truly is.
A micropolitan area has a core community or cluster of 10,000 to 49,999 people, with a high degree of social and economic integration, such as commuters from neighboring counties.
“We know we have to rely on the outlying areas around Norfolk to help fill jobs,” said Madison County Commissioner Troy Uhlir. “We don’t have near the housing we would need to fill all the jobs.”
The Norfolk micropolitan area is made up of Madison, Stanton and Pierce counties. The Norfolk micropolitan area is the second biggest in the state behind the Kearney area.
In contrast, Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island have a core community of at least 50,000 and fit the definition of a metropolitan area.
So far this spring, damage to roads from the mid-March flooding has impacted thousands of drivers who work at Norfolk jobs.
Many traveled, for example, on the Old Hadar Road from their homes to Norfolk. When that road was closed because of damage, it forced commuters to seek out other, longer routes. Even some of the roads that weren’t severely impacted by the flood have been ultimately damaged because commuters and trucks have greatly increased traffic on them.
Madison County Commissioner Christian Ohl said he received a lot of calls right after the flood from people in neighboring counties, trying to find ways to get into Norfolk.
“I’ve not put all the data together to find out exactly where all the calls came from,” Ohl said. “Part of that occurred, too, because some of the neighboring counties had more damage than we did, so they were trying to find their way in from alternative routes. That put a higher burden on other roads and destroyed some of the other roads.”
Even so, Ohl said, it is good that there are workers in nearby counties who can help to fill the jobs in Madison County.
David Drozd of the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, analyzed figures from the census, including Nebraska’s micropolitan areas.
He provided some of the following statistics on counties in the Norfolk micropolitan area that shows how inter-connected the area is for jobs:
— In Pierce County, 2.7 times more people leave the county to work elsewhere than come into Pierce County from elsewhere to work. About 1,200 both live and work in Pierce County.
— Madison County tops the list as to where Pierce County workers go for employment, with 35%, followed by the 32% who live and work locally in Pierce County. Pierce County has 958 workers coming into the county and 2,584 leaving the county for work.
— Stanton County is even more skewed given its closer proximity to the main jobs center in Norfolk, Drozd said.
— Stanton County has 6.5 times higher commuter outflow than inflow, which isn’t surprising given Woodland Park’s close proximity to Norfolk. Stanton County has 427 workers entering from outside the county and 2,761 workers leaving for other counties.
— In Madison County, more workers come in for work than leave. Nevertheless, they also have been impacted by closed roads and those needing repair work this spring.
— Madison County has 1.6 times more workers arriving for work than leaving, with 9,124 workers coming in from outside of the county and 5,841 workers going outside of the county for work.
Regarding total population, the latest statistics from the Census Bureau last month indicate Madison County lost more than 1,000 people (-1,117) from 2006-07 when the Tyson plant in Norfolk closed.
The county has grown in nine of the 11 years since then, with a total gain of 1,094.
Thus, the county has came all the way back from that event, as residents numbered 35,392 in 2018, nearly equal to the pre-closure 2006 level of 35,415. The county is now only about 500 people below the all-time population high hit in 2002 (35,862).