“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to continue to be a welcoming and vibrant community for everyone” - Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean, International Programs
By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette 
Iowa’s Asian population is growing at a faster clip than any other racial or ethnic group, and new U.S. Census Bureau numbers reveal that people who identify as Asian now comprise 2 percent of the state’s populace.
From 2010 to 2012, the number of people living in Iowa who identify as Asian jumped 10.6 percent from 54,232 to 60,004 people, according to the new Census numbers released Thursday. From 2011 to 2012, Iowa’s Asian population jumped 4.8 percent, also representing the biggest increase among racial and ethnic groups in Iowa for that time period.
“That does actually surprise me a bit,” said Gary Krob, analyst for Iowa’s State Library and State Data Center. “The fastest growing population has been the Hispanic population in our state for quite a while.”
Iowa’s population trends mirror national data that indicates Asians are the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group across the United States.
The Asian population grew nationally by 530,000-some, or 2.9 percent, from 2011 to 2011, according to Census Bureau estimates. More than 60 percent of that growth came from international immigration, according to the bureau.
In Iowa, the Asian populace is the fourth largest racial or ethnic group – behind white, Hispanic and African-American. The Hispanic populace grew 7.5 percent from 2010 to 2012, and the African-American group grew 5.9 percent during that time.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, which released the new statistics Thursday as part of the annual population estimates, “Asians and Hispanics have long been among our nation’s fastest-growing race or ethnic groups.”
In Iowa, however, that has not been the case, Krob said.
“The bureau is showing an increase in the Asian population in the state of Iowa that they hadn’t been showing previously,” he said.
The Iowa counties with the largest Asian populations are Polk, Johnson, Story, Linn and Scott counties. Johnson County saw its Asian population increase about 7 percent from 2010 to 2011, and Linn County saw its Asian population grow about 12 percent during that time period.
Despite those jumps and the state trends, Johnson and Linn counties both saw bigger increases from 2010 to 2012 in their Hispanic populations – with a nearly 13 percent increase in Johnson and a 12.3 percent increase in Linn.
And 10 counties in Iowa counted more than 10 percent of their populations as Hispanic – including Muscatine County, which is 16.5 percent Hispanic and includes West Liberty, the state’s first Hispanic-majority town.
The Iowa counties with the largest Hispanic populations, according to the new data, are Polk, Woodbury, Scott, Marshall and Muscatine. Johnson County is ranked sixth in the state in total Hispanic populace, and Linn County is ranked eighth.
While Hispanic growth in Iowa remains strong, Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean of International Programs for the University of Iowa, said he expects Asian growth to continue surging.
“We see this as a really positive development for the community and the state as a whole,” Thomas said. “We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to continue to be a welcoming and vibrant community for everyone.”
He said the UI has seen “tremendous growth” in its international student population in recent years – jumping from a total of 1,968 in 2007 to 3,576 in 2012.
“In particular, it’s from east and southeast Asia, with the largest group coming from China,” said Thomas, who was not surprised to hear of Iowa’s growth among Asians. “It’s in the ballpark of what we have seen in our international student body.”
Thomas said he attributes the UI’s growth in its Asian population, in part, to the strength of China’s economy.
“Students and student parents can afford education abroad, and they recognize that the United States and Iowa offer great quality education,” he said.
The increase benefits Iowa and its communities, according to Thomas, because it diversifies the population and helps the economy. For example, he said, the UI’s international students in 2012 contributed more than $101 million to the state’s economy.
Asian immigrants statewide probably contributed somewhere in the $300 million range, Thomas said. And, he said, many people who come here for a job or to attend school in places like Iowa City end up staying.
“It’s a small community, its main industries are healthcare and education, and it’s safe,” he said. “That’s very attractive to Chinese parents and their children.”