They grow so fast -- Tri-Cities metro area tops for growth in nation

By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City HeraldApril 6, 2012 

The Tri-Cities once again tops a nationwide list -- this time as the Census Bureau's fastest-growing metro area since 2010.

Population in the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland metro area grew by 4.3 percent between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011, the bureau reported.

The data released Thursday was the first set of population estimates released for metro and micro areas and counties since the official 2010 Census counts were done. The 2011 population of the Tri-Cities was estimated at 264,133 by the Census Bureau.

"Our nation is constantly changing and these estimates provide us with our first measure of how much substate areas have grown or declined in total population since Census Day, April 1, 2010," Robert Groves, Census Bureau director, said in a statement. "We're already seeing differing patterns of population growth than we saw in the last decade."

Other metro areas in the Top 10 were:

-- Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, Texas;

-- Hinesville-Fort Stewart, Ga.;

-- McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas;

-- Raleigh-Cary, N.C.; Warner Robins, Ga.;

-- Provo-Orem, Utah;

-- Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, S.C.;

-- Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, S.C.;

-- and Yuma, Ariz.

The Tri-Cities wasn't the only place in the Mid-Columbia with noteworthy growth.

Franklin County is the fifth fastest-growing county in the nation at 6.8 percent with an estimated population of 83,455 as July 1, 2011.

Moses Lake made the list of 10 micro areas with the largest numerical increase in population from 2010 to 2011, a growth of 2,145, the Census Bureau said.

Carl Adrian, president of the Tri-City Development Council, said ranking No. 1 for population growth -- and other superlatives the region has achieved in recent years -- helps put the Tri-Cities on the national map and attract the attention of businesses that may want to locate here.

"Just showing up as ranked No. 1 gets the name out," Adrian told the Herald. "A lot of media is going to pick that up, so it helps raise the identity of the Tri-Cities and puts us in the top of people's minds."

He added that companies want to be someplace where things are happening rather than a community that's stagnant.

"The old saying is that if you're not growing, you're declining," he said. "I think the reason companies want to be in an area like this is because they appreciate they will have a greater chance of success."

Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said attracting commercial and industrial development along with population growth is important to maintain a balance in city budgets.

Residential developments on average tend to cost cities more in services such as police, fire and streets than they generate in taxes, so booming cities such as Pasco need to broaden the tax base with businesses.

"It's like a teeter-totter -- there's a direct relationship between the two," he said.

Crutchfield said some services in the Tri-Cities, such as health care, have matured along with the population and help make the region an attractive place to live.

But in other ways the Tri-Cities is in its adolescence as it becomes a more urban center, he added.

"It's kind of like going through the teen years -- gangly and awkward, but growing into adulthood," Crutchfield said.

He noted that Tri-Citians have many more options for retail and services than they did when he moved here in 1978, when people would travel to Yakima or Spokane for their shopping.

But cities must keep an eye on planning for increasing traffic and demands for police and fire services as populations increase, he said.

Crutchfield said he believes Pasco -- which has been growing rapidly for more than a decade -- is keeping up.

"In the short run, we're doing pretty good," he said. "The question is the long run. That's why it's one of our long-term goals to broaden the tax base with industrial and commercial development."

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