Arizona Republic
August 29, 2006

Author: JJ Hensley  (Phoenix, AZ)

Kenny Chon is like thousands of other southeast Valley residents.

Chon was burned by high prices in southern California before fleeing to the Valley six years ago. Now he owns a business in Mesa.

Estimates recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate there are thousands more Mesa residents like Chon, who is Korean, with more arriving every year.

The city's Asian population has increased by nearly 50 percent in the past five years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's inaugural American Community Survey; it mirrors Maricopa County's Asian growth of 45 percent.
Mesa's overall population growth was 11.6 percent.

"In general, it's a clear sign that the diversity of the United States is increasing, and not just in the group that has gotten most attention lately, the Hispanic-Latino group," said Steve Doig, a journalism professor at Arizona State University.

"America is a magnet to people of all sorts of backgrounds, and the increase in the Asian population is a part of that."

For Chon, 43, who lives in Chandler, the motivation to move to the Valley was simply economic.

"Opportunity knocks over here better than it does in California," Chon said.
"I think it will grow even more. A lot of Asians are coming in from (Los
Angeles) because of the price of houses and everything."

Experts like Doig caution against reading too much into the numbers.

The Asian population in Mesa and in Maricopa County is still less than 3 percent of the total. The statistics were collected in 2005 through a survey that reached about one out of every 40 houses in the U.S. The validity of the statistics decreases, and the margin of error increases, as the sample size becomes smaller, such as when focusing on a single group within one city. Readers should treat the survey results with a grain of salt, Doig said.

"But with that said, as an indication of growth, that's pretty good," he added.

There are other indications of growth that go beyond those numbers, too.

Chon's Koreana Video is tucked in a shopping center near Southern Avenue and Dobson Road with a handful of Asian restaurants, an Asian market and a chiropractor-and-acupuncture clinic that caters to Asians. Less than two miles north on Dobson, developers are in the process of converting a former Target store into a 100,000-square-foot Asian marketplace called Mekong Plaza that will include a 45,000-square-foot grocery store as its anchor tenant.

Tom Rex, assistant director at ASU's Center for Competitiveness and Prosperity Research, said the concentration of ethnic groups in southwest Mesa is part of a continuing trend of ethnic minorities, who traditionally earn less than their Anglo counterparts, being lured to the area by relatively affordable housing prices.

Anecdotal evidence and estimates based on a fraction of households are no substitute for the hard evidence the 2010 census will reveal, Doig said, but it does give residents, planners and administrators an idea about how their cities are changing from year to year.

"It gives us a continually changing picture of the country that fills in the gaps," Doig said of the new American Community Survey. "What we had before was kind of like watching a movie where you can see every 10th frame."

Census comparison






American Indian..6,572......9,817


U.S. Census Bureau.

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CAPTION: Soo-Yeon Kim rents videos from Koreana Video in Mesa. More businesses are catering to the city's increasing Asian population.