Soldotna mayor Peter Micciche contends that living on the Kenai Peninsula comes with some very rare benefits.
“People can choose to work for a corporation or for the borough or the hospital, yet still be in touch with one of the wealthiest natural environments near a semi-urban area that exists today,” he said. “In how many places can you work for a large company and catch a king salmon after work?”
That’s why Micciche wasn’t necessarily surprised to hear that the cities of Soldotna and Kenai, along with the Kenai Peninsula Borough as a whole grew over the last decade, according to recent statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
From 2000 to 2010 the borough as a whole grew by 11.5 percent, from 49,691 residents to 55,400 residents. The borough’s growth, however, was a bit behind the state as whole, which grew by 13.3 percent.
In the borough, the number of residents aged 18 and older grew from 34,832 to 42,289 over the decade. The total number of housing units grew from 24,871 in 2000 to 30,578 in 2010. Of those homes in the borough, 22,161 were occupied last year, which is in an increase from 18,438 in 2000.
The greatest change in population statistics contained in the census was among the number of residents 65 and over living in the borough. That statistic jumped by 2,627 residents — from 3,649 residents in 2000 to 6,276 last year.
Alyssa Shanks, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor, said the Kenai Peninsula Borough has had a higher median age for several years.
“One of the big draws in the Peninsula and probably one of the reasons they are what I hate to call a retirement community, but a higher median age and a higher proportion of retired folks there is because of the housing affordability,” she said.
Also included in the census information were statistics indicating the borough also diversified slightly.
The area’s Latino population grew from 1,087 in 2000, to 1,641 last year. American Indian and Alaska Native populations grew from 3,713 in 2000 to 4,081 in 2010. Populations of African Americans and Asians remained about the same.
The population of white residents in the borough is also much higher than the state as a whole. Across the borough, 84.6 percent of the population is white, while white persons make up only 66.7 percent of Alaska’s population.
“So it’s no great departure from what the Peninsula has been — it doesn’t surprise me at all,” Shanks said.
Across Alaska, Shanks said economists are seeing an increase in the number of people reporting two or more races. As a whole, 7.3 percent of the state’s population claimed mixed race, while 5.6 percent of the borough’s population reported having mixed race.
Shanks added the area’s overall growth likely has to do with the amount of people migrating to the area, rather than increases in births and natural city growth.
Micciche added that he thought the growth and aging of population also had to do with a shift in residents’ mentality about the area.
“Families are now staying in the area,” he said. “Now that it is multi-generational, grandparents are staying here because their children and grandchildren are here and I think what you are seeing is a normalization of the generational aspects of a community. Earlier in our development, it was young people coming up here to conquer the wilderness, if you will.”
Borough Mayor David Carey agreed, adding that when he grew up in the area there were “very few elderly people.”
“People used to come up here for a few years, work real hard, but then they always planned to go somewhere else,” he said. “Today, what’s happening is that people are staying here and one of the major reasons for that is health care.”
The city of Kenai grew from 6,942 residents to 7,100 in 2010.
Soldotna grew as well from 3,759 residents in 2000 to 4,163 residents in 2010.
Both Micciche and Kenai mayor Pat Porter said they were pleased with the slow, steady growth of their respective communities.
“I think the growth of the Peninsula is stable and it is not happening too fast that the borough and the cities can’t adjust to the needs of the people,” Porter said. “That doesn’t just go for the infrastructure, it goes for the quality of services that our residents are looking for.”
Micciche said Soldotna’s growth was all about finding a balance.
“The city strives to balance the needs of the community with the growth of the community and we certainly aren’t out there trying to bring people here,” he said. “We are more focused on the quality of life for those that are here. But, in turn, our quality of life is going to draw certain demographics to the community and we would like those demographics to remain balanced.”
Across the borough, Carey said he thought younger people were starting to live outside city limits.
“Those that are younger, those people that normally have a lower income, they are outside of the cities and they are having children, but they receive less resources in terms of paved roads, water and sewer,” he said. “Whereas those of us that are middle aged an older, we are in the cities and we are here to stay.”
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.