IT'S OFFICIAL: Philly's population drain is history.

With a final tally of 1,526,006 people, according to census data released yesterday, the city's population has grown for the first time since 1950.

The gain might be tiny - it's only 0.56 percent - but it means the end to a 50-year population slide during which the city lost more than one-quarter of its citizens.

Although the city only gained 8,456 residents in the last 10 years (see graphic) - and will still be staring up at Phoenix when its 2010 census numbers are released this week - it was enough for Mayor Nutter to celebrate yesterday.

"What it really is about is folks recognizing that this city is moving in the right direction," Nutter said at an afternoon news conference celebrating the end of the shrinkage. "Companies want to be here. We're growing jobs. We've changed some of the culture here in city government, and things are in fact improving.

"It's certainly a snapshot, but I think it is an indicator of where things are going. And to be able to announce a reversal in the 60-year decline is spectacular."

Helping to drive the increase from the last decade was an influx of Hispanic and Asian residents.

There was a 44 percent increase in the number of Hispanics in the city (now 187,611) and a 42 percent increase in Asians (95,521).

Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, said that not only has the Puerto Rican population increased, but Mexicans began arriving over the last 10 years and the Dominican population also has increased, with arrivals both from the island and from New York City.

Within the city are strong populations of Vietnamese and Cambodians, she said, and "within the last two or three years we're starting to see immigrants from Burma and Nepal."

She said the immigrants are attracted to the affordability of housing and "the availability of storefronts so people can open their own businesses"

"We have seen a significant number of immigrants, from mom-and-pop stores to big biotech startups or health-care-related businesses," she said.

Gary Jastrzab, executive director and ranking census expert at the City Planning Commission, said the Asian population that used to be highly concentrated in the Chinatown area has grown significantly in South Philadelphia and Olney.

He said part of the growth could be attributed to immigrants' coming to Philadelphia after hearing that people from their villages or countries have been successful here.

Jastrzab said that reading between the lines of the Census Bureau's annual estimates since the last census, it appears that the city's population bottomed out in the middle of the decade, and has been increasing since.

"Around about the time that I announced I was gonna run for mayor," Nutter deadpanned.