June 27--Spanish language classes he took in high school have become increasingly handy for Trempealeau County's clerk and administrative coordinator Paul Syverson.
He's translated the county government's automated phone menu into Spanish -- albeit with his slight Norwegian accent -- and he's been reading a larger amount of birth certificates from residents originally from Latin America.
"We've had a lot of Hispanic marriages too," he said.
Hispanics accounted for just under 1 percent of the county's population in the 2000 Census, but estimates released Thursday indicate it had grown to 6 percent by July 2013. While that's larger than other west-central Wisconsin counties, it's on par with the state's Hispanic population.
People who identified themselves as Hispanic make up 6.34 percent of the state's population, compared with 6.26 percent of Wisconsinites who are black, the next largest minority group, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
While the state's largest Hispanic populations have been in Milwaukee, Dane and Brown counties, their rapidly growing numbers in other areas have become a phenomenon.
"We've had to increase interpreter services at the courthouse," Syverson said.
Employees in the human services and public health department can translate Spanish, he said, and many people who need help with English have friends or family who speak both languages.
"The kids are learning it, anyway," he said.
Expansion of Ashley Furniture and Gold'n Plump, and farming opportunities in the Arcadia area, have attracted a growing Hispanic population.
"A third of the city (of Arcadia) is now Hispanic," Syverson noted, adding that nearby Independence also saw growth.
Just 3 percent of Arcadia's population identified its heritage as Hispanic or Latino in 2000, but it jumped dramatically in the 2010 Census.
The Arcadia school district hired more bilingual teachers and staff in the past dozen years.
"It's been a challenge, but it's been a blessing as well," superintendent Louie Ferguson said.
Unlike many other rural schools struggling to keep enrollment up, he said his district has grown and gotten resources to change programming and add staff to help students from Spanish-speaking households.
Ryan Weichelt, a UW-Eau Claire assistant professor of geography, has researched and taught lessons on the changing minority populations.
Hispanics moved to Trempealeau and Clark counties for lower-end jobs that other Americans aren't interested in, Weichelt said.
"A lot of it had to do with the farming population, especially in the dairy farms," he said.
A similar trend is apparent in Barron County's growing Somali population, he said.
Somali immigrants who first came to the Twin Cities have relocated to Barron County to work at a poultry operation, he said. Weichelt took a field trip of students out there to learn about the trend firsthand and eat at a Somali restaurant in Barron County.
In Eau Claire County, the most prominent minority population remains Asians, but Hispanic numbers were growing at a much faster rate.
July 2013 estimates put the county's Asian population at 3,591 which is 50 percent higher than the 2,395 people counted in the 2000 Census. But the Hispanic population grew 136 percent in the same time, rising from 921 people in 2000 to 2,175 last July.
Another dramatic minority population shift became apparent in Chippewa County demographics. Asians and Hispanics each outnumbered the county's black population 13 years ago, but that changed in July's estimates.
The county's black population surged more than eight-fold between those years -- starting at 98 in 2000, but reaching 939 last summer. That's larger than the 887 Asians and 871 Hispanics from July 2013 estimates, even though both of those groups did grow since 2000.
While the latest Census figures do illustrate trends, Weichelt cautions that there is a margin of error. And he added that historically there have been difficulties in getting some people in minority populations to respond to Census requests.
"They're all under-reported," he said.
Dowd can be reached at 715-833-9204, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2014 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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Original headline: Census estimates show booming Hispanic population
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