Park Place Apartments in Richland
The Tri-Cities didn’t quite reach the 300,000 population mark last year. It most certainly will in 2019, if it hasn’t already.
The Tri-Cities grew by 5,700 people in 2018, enough to push it up a notch on the nation’s list of the largest metro areas.
The Census Bureau said the Tri-Cities topped 296,000, making it the 164th largest market in the United States and the eighth largest in the Pacific Northwest, after Eugene.
The gain came at the expense of another Tri-Cities, the Kingsport/Bristol community on the Tennessee/Virginia border. The Tri-Cities of Tennessee fell one spot, to 162, which helped shift the ranks, Census figures show.
Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater, Washington state’s “other Tri-Cities,” fell two spots, to 171.
Growth sparks growth
Population growth plays a major role in the day-to-day lives of Tri-Citians, said Carl Adrian, president of the Tri-City Industrial Council, the region’s economic development organization.
More people means more demand for homes and rentals. It attracts retailers and businesses and airlines and services.
“The bigger the market, the more hospitality, more medical services and more shopping services you will see,” he said. “It’s not just another McDonald’s.”
Population growth means more demand for health care services, agreed Jim Hall, spokesman for Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
One of the region’s largest private employers, Kadlec employs 3,750, a 7.3 percent increase from 2012.
“What it really means is we’ve been able to add a level of services that allows people to stay at home for care,” he said.
That includes high-end cardiology services and a neonatal intensive care unit, services that used to force Tri-Citians to larger markets. Neither is new, but they highlight how the organization has added specialized services to serve the community.
“Before 2001, you couldn’t get open heart surgery in the Tri-Cities,” he said.
Does 300,000 matter?
Hitting 300,000 people will be an interesting moment for the Tri-Cities, said Adrian.
But he said that isn’t as critical as 250,000, which the Tri-Cities reached in 2009, or 500,000, which won’t happen for decades.
The Washington Office of Financial Management projects the Tri-Cities will reach 382,110 in 2030.
But Barb Johnson, manager of Columbia Center, said 300,000 does matter.
Retailers will pay attention to markets with 300,000 or more people in the primary trade area. She said it’s “very good” and predicted it will lead to important new players in the market.
Tri-Citians have longed for retailers such as Trader Joe’s and restaurant operators such as Cheesecake Factory, neither of which has ever given any indication it is considering the Tri-Cities.
“The great thing about the Tri-Cities is we don’t have several of those retailers. Maybe when they see the numbers, they will take a second look,” she said.
Benton tops 200,000
In the Tri-Cities, comprised of Kennewick, Richland and Pasco, growth followed predictable lines.
Benton County topped 200,000 people for the first time with a one-year growth rate of 1.7 percent, or about 3,400 people.
Franklin grew by 2.4 percent, adding about 2,200 people.
With a population of 94,347, Franklin County is just two or three years from reaching the 100,000 level.
But neither county is among the nation’s 100 fastest growing counties for one-year growth.
Franklin County was 54th for growth over eight years, gaining nearly 21 percent.
Both Benton and Franklin counties outpaced the state, which grew by 1.9 percent, according to adjusted census figures.
Impact of more people
The Tri-City workforce grew to 143,367 people in February, 4 percent more than the year before.
Even with more workers, the unemployment rate has generally been lower every month relative to the prior year for several years.
Contractors pulled 1,467 permits for homes in 2018. That’s 1.7 percent more than 2017, according to the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities.
The median price of a home sold in November was $277,500, an 8 percent jump from the year before, according to the Tri-City Association of Realtors.
And the Tri-Cities Airport keeps breaking passenger records.
The Port of Pasco, which owns and operates the airport, reported a record 395,084 boardings in 2018. That was 5 percent more than 2017.
January and February boardings were also on the rise. They climbed 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively, above the same month in 2018.
That could go higher this year with the addition of United Airlines daily flight to Los Angeles International Airport.
Northwest’s Top 12
There is no change in the Northwest’s top metros or how they rank in the nation.
Populations are given for the metro area. Information about individual cities has not been released.
15. Seattle (3.4 million), 25. Portland (2.5 million); 80. Boise (730,426); 98. Spokane (573,493); 126. Salem (432,102); 134. Anchorage (399,148); 141. Eugene (379,611); 164. Tri-Cities (296,224); 171. Olympia (286,419); 181. Bremerton (269,805); 188. Yakima (251,446); and 200. Bellingham (225,685).
Lean more about the Census Bureau’s 2018 Population Estimates at factfinder.census.gov.