A few families can make a big difference

Friday, April 15, 2005

Talk about a surprise! Residents of Hayes County couldn't believe it this morning when they were told that their county was among the fastest growing counties in the state on a percentage basis between July 1, 2003, and July 1, 2004.

New population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, published in today's Omaha World-Herald, show that Hayes County's population rose 1.4 percent in the one-year period to a total of 1,115.

The population rise put Hayes near the top of the charts, exceeded only in rate of growth by Sarpy County, up 2.9 percent to 135,973; Cass County, up 1.6 percent to 25,671; and Saunders County, up 1.4 percent to 20,344.

Hayes County's gain in population is in sharp contrast to Sandhill counties farther to the north. According to the census calculations for the one-year period ending July 1, 2004, the four counties with the biggest losses were Loup County, down 5.3 percent to 703 people; Thomas County, down 4.2 percent to 642 population; Grant County, down 3.6 percent to 670 people; and Blaine County, which dipped 35 percent to 518 population.

What's the difference? Why did Hayes County go up in population, while other rural counties in western Nebraska were going down? As explained by Hayes County residents, it was nothing dramatic. It was just a case of a few families deciding they would rather live in Hayes Center and the surrounding area, rather than fight the rat race in larger places.

Karmajo Hill, the village clerk and treasurer, is one example. A couple of years ago, she and her husband, Eric, decided they wanted a smaller school environment for their two youngest children, who were completing their elementary years in country school. So the Hills checked out schools in a wide area of western Nebraska. Their conclusion was that the Hayes Center schools were the best, so they made the move from Lexington. Eric works on the Mark Clifford Ranch, and Karmajo divides her time between the clerk-treasurer job and being director of the senior center. "The move to Hayes County has worked out wonderfully well," Karmajo said. "We love it here."

Hayes County has hope for further growth in the future. "The farm outlook is better this year than it has been for several years," said Scott Laird, manager of AmFirst Bank's Hayes Center branch. "And, hopefully," he said, "the increased moisture is going to help us make a wheat crop."

Hayes County is also beginning to work on entrepreneurship, said Kate Repass, principal for the Hayes County schools. "We want to create opportunities for our young people to return." That's the key, and hopefully Hayes County's population gain in 2004 is a sign of things to come.

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