USA TODAY NETWORK David DeMille, The (St. George, Utah) Spectrum Published 12:05 a.m. ET March 22, 2018 | Updated 12:14 a.m. ET March 22, 2018
ST. GEORGE, Utah — St. George is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S., according to new estimates from the Census Bureau.
There were an estimated 165,662 people in 2017 in the designated metro area, which includes most of Washington County in southwestern Utah, up 4% from 2016, according to estimates released Thursday.
The news may not surprise area residents used to coping with the constant road construction; looking up at new homes, new stores and other construction projects; and watching as housing developments expand away from the city centers and into the surrounding desert.
Demographers heed the speed
But the speed of the growth, and especially its makeup, is raising more than a few eyebrows among state demographers, said Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.
According to the estimates, people moving into the state overwhelmingly made up the 6,200 or so new residents. About 86% came from net migration — a startling figure given that most places in Utah see the bulk of new growth coming from “natural” growth, or more people being born than dying.
But the St. George area has become a magnet for move-ins, not only retirees from northern Utah, Southern California and elsewhere, but from an increasingly diverse cross-section of new workers, new students and others, Perlich said.
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“Certainly it’s tied to the growth dynamic of the Greater Las Vegas area, but it’s got its own internal growth dynamic, and there isn’t another county in the state we can point to that has this,” she said.
In addition, the prevalence of tourism, vacation homes, rentals, snowbird-type second homes and other elements mean that on any given day, county residents could find themselves sharing space with plenty of visitors who don’t actually count toward the official population, Perlich said.
“You could easily add another 20% to that (population) at any given time,” she said.
St. George in 2016 ranked as the sixth-fastest growing metro area, with a 3.1% growth rate, but in 2017 it leapfrogged several of its usual competitors to take the top spot.
The Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach area along the border of North Carolina and South Carolina ranked second, according to the Census Bureau, at 3.7%. It was followed by Greeley, Colo., at 3.5%, and the Bend-Redmond area of Oregon at 3.4%.
Among larger cities, the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area saw the greatest growth by number, adding 146,000 people in 2017 to reach a population of nearly 7.4 million.
Fast-paced growth has often been a blessing for the St. George area, helping to add jobs and industries, and attracting an influx of new money that the move-ins bring with them.
But it also brings some worry about the future and whether the community and the environment can support all the new bodies.
State projections forecast the area will continue growing, up to a population of nearly 500,000 in the next 50 years.
Snagging a spot on the Census Bureau’s “fastest growing” lists was an annual occurrence for St. George during the early and mid-2000s, when the sunny weather and scenic views helped fuel a housing boom that pushed growth rates above 8%.
It also struggled more than any other part of the state after the ensuing housing crash and the Great Recession.
At this point, there aren’t many signs of something similar hitting the area, said St. George Mayor Jon Pike, who added that the growth rate is actually much slower than it was during those boom years.
Working with the benefit of experience, Pike said he hopes the city and its surrounding neighbors can find a better balance moving forward, with careful planning and long-range thinking.
“When you have the attractions that we do, and the private property is there that owners will probably want to develop, the growth is going to come,” Pike said. “It is up to us to make sure that as we do we do it wisely, and in a way that doesn’t devalue the quality of life.”
Top 10 fastest-growing metro areas by percentage, 2016-2017
1. St. George, Utah, 4 percent to 165,662.
2. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. and N.C., 3.7 percent to 447,793.
3. Greeley, Colo., 3.5 percent to 294,243.
4. Bend-Redmond, Ore., 3.4 percent to 180,675.
5. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, 2.9 percent to 153,144.
6. Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla., 2.9 percent to 667,018.
7. Boise City, Idaho, 2.8 percent to 690,810.
8. Provo-Orem, Utah, 2.7 percent to 601,478.
9. Austin-Round Rock, Texas, 2.7 percent to 2,060,558.
10. The Villages, Fla., 2.5 percent to 125,165.
Top 10 most populous metropolitan areas
1. New York-Newark-Jersey City, N.Y. and N.J., 20.3 million.
2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., 13.4 million.
3. Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Ill., 9.5 million
4. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas, 7.4 million.
5. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas, 6.9 million.
6. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, D.C., Va., Md., and W.V., 6.2 million.
7. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fla., 6.2 million.
8. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa., N.J., Del., and Md., 6.1 million.
9. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, Ga., 5.9 million.
10. Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass. and N.H., 4.8 million
Featured Photo Credit: Construction crews continue building homes in the Ledges Wednesday, July 26, 2017. Local governments and city planners discuss the projected increase in population and the potential impacts on the area. (Photo: Chris Caldwell / The Spectrum & Daily News)
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