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Peoria has lost significant bragging rights, as new census data shows it has dropped two rungs on the ranking of biggest cities in Illinois.
Springfield and Joliet now surpass Peoria in population, meaning Peoria has dropped from its 2000 ranking as the fifth biggest city in the state to the seventh largest city.
U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday showed that Peoria's population grew by just 171 people from 2000 to 2006. Joliet, on the other hand, added more than 36,000 people, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.
Mayor Jim Ardis said some increase in population is better than none.
"Without having an opportunity to really dive into (the numbers), even though it's small growth, I'm glad it is growth. I defer to the housing starts and the business climate here, which is very strong. I'd really be interested in looking at the Tri-County numbers, which I think would indicate there has been significant growth in the area," Ardis said Thursday.
Peoria's population was 112,936, according to the 2000 census, and is now estimated to be 113,107. Springfield had 111,454 residents in 2000 and an estimated 116,482 people live there now. Joliet's population was 106,221 in 2000 and is now estimated at 142,702.
Jim McConoughey, president of The Heartland Partnership, said Thursday he's not concerned about the drop in the ranking. Population is only one of a number of indicators of economic health, he said.
"We have one of the most robust economies in the Midwest right now," he said, citing business growth, job generation and the city's unemployment rate, which is about 3.8 percent, which he said is the lowest it's been in 35 years.
McConoughey said population growth can be inflated by annexation, which he said is substantial in other cities. He said annexation can give an inaccurate impression of a city's economic health. Even though a city may be spreading out geographically, growth can be stagnant at its core.
"It shows as number increases, but there's actually no growth. The houses are already built," said McConoughey, who heads both the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois and the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce.
He added that two Peoria annexations in 2006 in areas north and west of the city likely weren't in the estimates.
The top 10 cities in the state ranked by population are: Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, Naperville, Joliet, Springfield, Peoria, Elgin, Waukegan and Cicero.