By Pete Julius

What is your definition of a rural area? Some people call all non-metropolitan areas rural regions, while others put areas with populations of less than 5,000 people in the rural category. Numerous definitions are used to classify a region as rural or urban, making it harder for economic developers to select the right classification. 

The law requires some federal and state economic development organizations to use Census Bureau classifications to allocate program funds, set program standards, and implement each program.  For those communities that could be either rural or urban it is very important to understand the classification system.  It is also essential to understand any changes that occur within the system and what they could mean to a community.  Recently, the Census Bureau revised its classification of rural and urban areas. 

The 1990 Census definition labeled rural areas as those community boundaries with less than 2,500 people.  However, the new 2000 definition instituted by the Census Bureau is quite different.  The new definition is now based on population density and not just boundary lines.  This definition will not only include communities with less than 2,500 but it will also include the surrounding areas, which contribute to the community’s overall economy. 

The change will cause some traditional rural areas to become classified as urban.  Since this change in classification was just announced, it is not clear what it means for the future.  The switch in terminology could cause a reform in Federal and state funding.  If you wish to view these changes further, please click on the following link: