Census: Tri-City population jumps 10 percent, brings challenges

The Tri-Cities grew nearly 10 percent in four years, but local government and economic officials say job creation needs to keep up if that growth is to continue.

The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show Kennewick, Pasco, Richland and West Richland have an estimated population of almost 212,500 as of July 2014.

That’s almost 18,900 more people than the last official census in April 2010 and doesn’t include outlying communities such as Benton City, Prosser and Connell, which also grew.

But making sure future and current Tri-Citians have jobs and places to shop, as well as city services, are the issue at hand as the communities work to keep up with the population.

“You can’t operate and run a city on building permits,” said West Richland Mayor Brent Gerry.

Since 2010, West Richland and Pasco saw the biggest climb in four years, both growing by 11 percent. Richland bumped up 9 percent.

Kennewick grew by 4 percent and remained the largest city in the region with about 77,400 residents.

Pasco was at about 68,650, followed by Richland at 53,000, according to the census count.

And West Richland had 13,350 residents, though Gerry thinks the census missed about 250 people living in a large apartment complex.

Each town saw about 1 percent to 2 percent of that growth in the last year.

“For some communities, that’s what happens in a decade,” said Carl Adrian, president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council.

Adrian said the Tri-Cities’ overall annual growth has been pretty consistent for 10 years or so. The metropolitan area is actually growing faster than Spokane, and development in Kennewick’s Southridge area, around Road 68 in Pasco and Queensgate in Richland are evidence of it.

The resulting increase in property taxes from development allows cities to increase and improve services.

It’s also coming at a cost. Not all new residents are coming to the region with a job lined up, and job creation isn’t completely keeping up with growth, Adrian said.

Communities are increasingly looking at ways to manage it.

Pasco and Richland have some form of traffic impact fees and Kennewick is considering one. Pasco has school impact fees for new housing that are meant to help address the flood of students filling its schools.

“All that growth is creating strain for public services,” Adrian said.

But steering economic development is a delicate act, Gerry said. Most move to West Richland to enjoy the relatively calm countryside lifestyle that is the city’s hallmark.

That means city officials generally want smaller businesses such as wine bars and restaurants, not big box stores and smokestacks.

“We have 80 percent sales tax leakage,” Gerry said of the city’s relatively small retail sector. “We don’t have the amenities people need.”

Change could come soon.

If the state decides to add a new interchange off Interstate 82 near Red Mountain, that could open the door to a larger retail development, Gerry said.

The interchange also is near the former Tri-City Raceway, which the city and Port of Kennewick are working to develop for wine production with a $2 million wine effluent facility currently in the design phase.

Then there’s the Yakima River Gateway Project, which will convert land on the western side of the Yakima River near the Van Giesen Street bridge, a spot popular with folks looking to cool off in the summer, into a park setting with trails.

That could attract more tourism-related businesses, he said.