It's always tricky to draw sweeping conclusions from a two-year sample, but each year's new population estimates from Portland State University's Population Research Center always offer intriguing clues into mid-valley trends.
The center last week released its annual set of population estimates for Oregon, its counties and its incorporated cities. The numbers represent the center's population estimates as of July 1, 2017 — and it's always interesting to compare those numbers to the figures for the previous July 1. (The online version of this editorial includes a table showing selected population numbers for the mid-valley.)
The big headline is that Oregon's population growth remains brisk, with 1.6 percent growth overall — it works out to 64,750 additional residents, according to the center's reckoning. The center's experts said most of that growth seemed to be from people moving to Oregon and not necessarily from natural growth (births exceeding deaths).
The fastest growth again is concentrated in the state's urban areas. Deschutes County, which includes Bend, is the fastest-growing county in the state, with 3.6 percent growth. Bend itself grew at close to 4 percent. Not even Portland (1.9 percent growth) could match that, but the three-county Portland metro area, with 1.8 million residents, still has nearly half of the state's population.
Those numbers are part of the reason why the economic recovery that has boosted urban areas has not offered the same benefit to the state's rural areas. (That growth in Bend also explains why Oregon State University officials are so intent on developing their Cascades campus.)
Both Benton and Linn counties grew at the same rate, 1.4 percent — slower than the state average.
If you're looking for a hotbed of growth in the mid-valley, don't look to Corvallis or Albany — both cities posted population growth of less than 1 percent. (Our guess with Corvallis is that the total population number hews closely with the slowing enrollment growth at OSU's Corvallis campus. Our hunch for Albany is that much of the growth in the area is focused around unincorporated North Albany.)
The fastest growth in the mid-valley continues to be in Millersburg, where the population grew more than 6 percent between 2016 and 2017, to 1,835 people. When you're growing faster than Bend, you know that you're in the midst of substantial growth, This is part of the reason why the City Council has taken important steps lately to hire an interim city manager and launch a search for a professional manager: With this kind of growth, you need to do what you can to bring in a steady hand at the top. It will be fascinating to watch that community deal with the growth.
Other Linn County communities also are dealing with growth that outpaces the state average: Lebanon continues its spurt, with 1.7 percent growth over the past year, to 16,270. There is growth as well in some of the county's smaller communities: Tangent (2.5 percent) Waterloo (2.2 percent) and Scio (1.7 percent) grew at rates above the state average, although the raw numbers are relatively small: Tangent added 30 residents, to grow to 1,235. Waterloo added five residents to grow to 235. And Scio added 15 residents to move to 905.
No communities in the mid-valley posted population declines, according to the center's estimates. But some mid-valley communities remained even with the previous year's estimates, notably Sweet Home (9,090), Mill City (1,860), Monroe (620) and Sodaville (335). It's likely not a coincidence that many of these communities were heavily reliant on the wood-products industry and still are coping with the huge changes there.
In fact, those issues continue to reverberate throughout all of Oregon. The new population estimates are fascinating on their own — but also serve to bring into clearer focus the continuing gap between urban and rural Oregon.