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The 2020 Census: A Telltale Of Suburban Migration

How midsize city population growth may predict future commercial real estate trends

Lease Rate - $13.33
Vacancy- 5.4%


Lease Rate - $21.79
Vacancy- 8.3%


Lease Rate - $4.70
Vacancy- 4.1%


The trend continues. Locally, regionally, nationally, internationally. Since the 1950s, we’ve seen a surge of young adults and families migrate from their rural upbringings to more urban and suburban landscapes. As analysis of the 2020 census data begins, this trend has, and will continue to make, major national impacts economically and societally.

Megacities in the past have driven a great deal of this urbanization trend, but the tertiary markets (think Kansas City and comparable cities) appear to have taken over the pole position for this growth. So much so that for the first time since the 1970s, Kansas City’s population has surpassed the half-million mark to 508,000 residents.

With a 10.5% population growth rate over the last decade, Kansas City is in prime position to benefit from the continuing trend of urbanism, while positioning itself as an attractive tertiary market providing the benefits of urban living without the downsides primary markets battle.

Top tier megacities including New York City (7.7%), Los Angeles (2.8%), and Chicago (1.9%) all experienced population growth below the 50 largest cities average of 8.5%. Employment and entertainment opportunities can now be found in many cities, while cost of living, lack of resources, and crime have contributed to slower growth in the largest markets.

While much of the population has been and will continue to flock to urban areas, it seems the most attractive places to live are not necessarily the cities themselves, but their surrounding suburbs. Although Kansas City remains Missouri’s second largest metro area, the entire region saw significant growth over the last decade – Platte County experienced nearly 20% population growth, while Clay County saw a 14% increase. When it comes to cities within the metro, Overland Park showed the largest growth with nearly 14% population increase in the last decade, bringing their population to over 197,000 people.

This relationship of growth is symbiotic; while the suburbs and city may be fighting for more slices of the same growing pie, both benefit greatly from each other’s success. For Kansas City to prosper, it must have prospective employees and taxpayers who frequent it; the larger that base is, the more development the city can support. The more development the city can support, the more attractive its surrounding suburbs are to prospective rural and megacity residents looking to benefit from midsize city life.

In an interview with FOX4, Cory Mihalik, Research Consultant at the Missouri State Library, stated, “Rural counties largely had population drops, unless they were near some sort of city center, be that Springfield, Columbia, St. Louis, or Kansas City.”

This isn’t just a trend in the Midwest, globally the world’s urban population surpassed its rural population in 2009 and will never look back. The once picturesque small-town USA with a vibrant local city square continues to become more and more so a memory to those who grew up there, and more and more so a fairytale to younger generations.

With fewer consumers in these rural towns, we’re finding fewer strong real estate sites within and outside the city limits. These trends beget each other, exacerbating the migration into cities even faster. With few new places to live, work, eat, and play, there’s little motivation or reward to stay. Over the last decade, cities smaller than 5,000 people had slow or negative growth.

Since 2010, the U.S. has only grown by 7.4%, which is the slowest growth rate since the 1940 census (7.3%). Growth is happening the fastest in the South (9.9%) and the West (9%), whereas the Northeast (4.0%) and the Midwest (3.0%) experienced growth lower than the national average of 7.4%.

While this slow Midwest growth may be perceived as detrimental to Kansas City’s prospectus, this subpar growth rate is driven more so by the large rural displacement happening throughout the Midwest, not by the midsized cities within it.

Although the main advantage of megacities and their employment opportunities were incredibly strong at the beginning of this census (partly due to the recession), that advantage is dwindling. Remote work, innovative technology, and the effects of COVID have accelerated opportunities for employment outside of those cities. Kansas City has benefited from this by offering employment and typical “big city” upscale amenities, while being able to maintain affordability, safety, and convenience.

As population growth continues to slow, we’re left to face challenging questions: Will it become even more important to win market share? Will the “winning” areas continue to lap the field with growth and development at an ever-accelerating pace? And more importantly, how does this impact Kansas City?

As Kansas City and other comparable markets continue to take market share from migrating rural and megacity populations, real estate development will continue to reflect that success.