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Great Plains and Prairies - Population

Great Plains and Prairies Population decline, or at best stagnation, has become the accepted standard across much of the Great Plains during the past 50 years. The region has a decided lack of urban centers, major recreational potential is minimal, and, until recently, there were few important natural resource developments. Regional population growth is concentrated in the larger cities near the margins of the Plains, while most smaller communities and rural areas experience outmigration and often population decline.

In many Great Plains counties, losses in farm-related jobs have not been offset by new types of jobs, resulting in a well-known trend of population loss. What is less known is that nearly 500 nonmetro counties with recent population outmigration also have more deaths than births—known as natural decline—and thus are losing people from two sources. Natural decline stems both from dwindling family size and prolonged outmigration of young adults, resulting in high average age. This phenomenon has spread somewhat into the lower South and is now common in parts of Appalachia, where it also affects many diminished metro industrial areas. The condition, which did not arise overnight, poses difficult development challenges.

Great Plains and PrairiesMuch of the region is served by major urban centers that are found somewhat beyond the peripheries of the Plains. Chief among these are Kansas City (Missouri) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minnesota). Denver (Colorado), Dallas-Fort Worth (Texas), and San Antonio (Texas), the largest American cities on the Plains, are all peripheral. Denver is a regional office center as well as the focus of financial activity for energy resource development on the Northern Plains and in the Interior West. Dallas, also a dominant regional office center for the Southwest, seems more of a city of the humid east, whereas the smaller Fort Worth--50 kilometers to the west--is a ranching and stockyard center that is clearly part of the Plains. San Antonio is the largest commercial center in south Texas plus the home of several major military bases.

Many of the somewhat smaller centers serving the area are also peripheral--cities such as Tulsa (Oklahoma) and Omaha (Nebraska). The service areas of the cities grouped around the edges of the Plains tend to be elongated east-west zones that cover the region. Most towns on the Plains began as transportation centers, commonly strung out along the railroads. Those that have prospered maintain some transport service function, but they have also become established regional market centers. Some are also supported by special local conditions--Oklahoma City and Tulsa, for example, are important petroleum centers. Wichita, Kansas, is a manufacturing center for small aircraft.

The beef processing industry has expanded into many smaller Plains communities during the last three decades. Formerly, the industry had been concentrated in the Midwest, where facilities were large and complex. Changing technology in the slaughter industry, the growth of feedlots on the Plains, and more diversified marketing patterns gradually made smaller plants located near the new feedlots of smaller Plains towns more economical.

Transportation routes on the Plains were originally built to cross the area rather than to serve it. Thus, most major highways and railroads pass east-west across the Plains, with few lines running north-south.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:04 ZULU