Clean, safe and inexpensive.
That's how area leaders view the county and explain the population growth reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.
"It doesn't take a lot to live in Oregon County," Alton Mayor Richard Haigwood said Monday, March 7.
Haigwood, owner of Haigwood Insurance Agency in Alton, said he often asks newcomers why they chose to move to the county.
The top three responses, he said, are clean air and water, low taxes and a low crime rate.
"Compared to big cities, we don't have any crime at all," Haigwood said.
Haigwood said many who move to the area from California or Detroit, for example, cite air quality as a factor.
"People are concerned about smog -- things we don't even think about here," Haigwood said.
Alton, the county seat, grew by more than 30 percent from 2000 to 2010, a gain of 203 residents, by far the largest percentage in the area, according to census figures.
"I must admit, I was quite surprised," Haigwood said. "We've had some, but we haven't had a lot of homebuilding."
Haigwood said the city also has about the same number of utility customers, although household sizes may be larger.
Now at 871, Alton's population jumped from 668 residents in 2000 after losing ground in 1990 (then at 692 residents).
Other area cities
Thayer had a modest increase of almost 2 percent in the past 10 years. The city gained 42 residents, for a 2010 population of 2,243, up from 2,201 a decade earlier and 1,996 residents in 1990.
The city's slow and steady gain is positive, city leaders said.
Thayer Mayor Earl "Buddy" Rogers credits the town's many successful small businesses with sustaining city growth. Relatively inexpensive living also is a plus.
"Lots of folks move here because we can live cheaper here than in the cities," Rogers said, adding that many new residents are retirees.
The city of Koshkonong grew by seven residents in 2000 and another seven last year, for a total of 212, a gain of 3.41 percent in 10 years.
West Plains, at 11,986, grew by 10.31 percent (1,120 residents) since 2000. The city was up about the same amount in 1990, then at 8,913 residents.
Oregon County's population overall has fluctuated up and down over the past 50 years -- from 9,845 residents in 1960, down to 9,180 in 1970, up to 10,238 in 1980, down to 9,470 in 1990, up to 10,344 in 2000 and up now to 10,881 residents.
In a county of mostly farms and agricultural industry, Oregon County Presiding Commissioner Patrick Ledgerwood said the growth on the 2000 and 2010 censuses is encouraging.
Ledgerwood said county officials won't know for at least a few months what effect the population increase will have on revenue. The county grew 5.19 percent since 2010.
Neighboring Howell County grew by 8.49 percent to 40,400, up from 37,238 a decade ago.
Ripley County increased by 4.37 percent to 14,100 residents. It's county seat of Doniphan grew by 65 residents (3 percent) to now 1,997.
Shannon County, now at 8,441, grew by 1.41 percent, or 117 residents.
Among the state's smallest counties, Carter County grew by 324 residents, now at 6,265, a 5.45-percent increase.
Although the state grew by 7 percent in the last decade to now almost 6 million people, it will lose one of its nine seats in Congress because it grew at a slower pace than the rest of the country.
By comparison, the nation grew at a 10-percent pace on the 2010 census, and by 13 percent in 2000.
In Missouri, the fastest-growing areas this time were in the southwest, around Springfield and in St. Louis suburbs.
Springfield grew at 5.22 percent to 159,498 residents, while its home county, Greene, grew by 14 percent. Just to its south, Christian County grew by 43 percent, among the highest increases in the state.
Other big gainers include Lincoln County (35 percent) and Warren County (32 percent), both west of St. Louis.
Cities that more than doubled in population include Clever (101 percent gain), Grain Valley (149 percent), Leadington (104 percent), Licking (112 percent), New Melle (282 percent), Rogersville (103 percent), Wentzville (321 percent) and Wright City (103 percent).
Of the fastest-growing cities, only Grain Valley and Wentzville have populations of more than 4,000. Grain Valley grew from 5,160 residents to now almost 13,000. Wentzville expanded from less than 7,000 in 2000 to now more than 29,000.
Across the state line, Fulton County, Ark., grew by 5.18 percent to 12,245 residents in 2010.
Sharp County grew by less than a percent, or 145 residents, to now 17,264.
Randolph and Clay counties, to the south and east, both lost populations, down by 226 and 1,526 residents respectively. Randolph County dropped by 1.24 percent, while Clay County, now at 16,085 residents, decreased by 8.67 percent.
Also showing a decline, Mammoth Spring is now at 997 residents, down from 1,147 in 2000.
Mayor Jean Pace said she believes the census count is incorrect.
The city has more water customers than it had in 2000, she said. There are also few unoccupied homes.
Pace said entities that dispute the census data have until June 2012 to file an appeal, which must be backed up by substantial information.
Pace said she is now reviewing the city's water meter list to verify residency. For those homes where she is unfamiliar with residents, she has another plan.
"Then, I'll go knock on the door," Pace said.
Census response rate
The Census Bureau estimates 60 percent of Mammoth Spring residents returned their census forms by mail, well short of the U.S. average of 74 percent.
Fifty-nine percent of Fulton County residents returned the forms by mail.
Overall, Missouri was even with the national response rate of 74 percent, while 69 percent of Arkansas residents returned their forms by mail.
Of area cities, Koshkonong led the way with 64 percent responding by mail. Thayer was at 62 percent and Alton at 58 percent.
For more information, go to www.census.gov.