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Our Opinion: MSA: Don't give up

April 06, 2001

It appears there may be a major undercount for Imperial County in the recently released 2000 federal census.

Nowhere will that hurt more than El Centro, where city leaders had been pushing for everyone to stand up and be counted as the 2000 census approached.

The main reason for that push was the city was seeking a metropolitan statistical area designation, which would open the city to countless state and federal grant opportunities and programs. The city and/or area needed to cross the magic 50,000 threshold to get that designation. With 37,835 counted residents in El Centro, 7,650 tallied residents in Imperial, and the adjacent county areas with an undetermined population but 550 housing units, city officials have said the area will not reach the needed number.

Aside from missing out on eligibility for grants and programs, not qualifying as an MSA is a blow to commercial development. Many retailers only open their eyes to MSAs, so such a designation means a retail influx, and a flood of commerce and job opportunities often follows. We need all that, along with all the grants and programs that come with an MSA, here in our Valley.

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So we urge El Centro officials to not give up. First, we think the numbers in El Centro are a big underestimate. (They are probably underestimated even more in Calexico, but that's another editorial.) We urge city officials to ask for a recount from the feds, if that will get them anywhere. If that doesn't work, city officials when they are fairly convinced the area has reached the 50,000 threshold, can contract to have its own count done between official federal census counts. If the cost of such a census is not prohibitive, that should be done within the next few years, as hundreds of housing units are already going up or are planned in both El Centro and Imperial.

Part of the reason for the undercount has to be the reluctance of so many of our residents to be tallied by anyone connected to the federal government, for fear of what might happen. All the warnings in the world from census and city officials can't remove that fear from people, and we are convinced thousands went purposely uncounted in our area.

So we urge El Centro officials to not give up and to keep reaching for an MSA designation. It could mean as much for economic development in the Imperial Valley as anything out there.

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