Census estimate shows Northwest Arkansas continues to lead state in pace of population growth

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 6,046 views 

Between 2015 and 2016, Northwest Arkansas added about 31 people per day, or an estimated 11,583 people, making it the 22nd fastest growing area out of the 382 areas in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of people living in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan statistical area rose 2% to 525,032 people, from 513,449 in 2015. The area growth represented a large portion of the population increase in the state. In Arkansas, the population rose by an estimated 10,395 people, between 2015 and 2016. Only 21 metropolitan statistical areas are growing faster than Northwest Arkansas, noted the Census data released Thursday (March 23). The pace of growth was roughly the same as between 2014-2015.

The 2016 population estimates for metropolitan statistical areas and counties are of as of July 1, 2016.

Mike Harvey, interim president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council, said it’s “consistent” and “robust” growth, but he had expected the population to increase by between 13,000 and 14,000, instead of 11,583. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Census Bureau revised the estimate to more closely align with expectations. The population increased largely because people are moving to the area, and they are moving here for job opportunities, Harvey said.

Historically, for every job that was filled, one could expect another two people to move here, but this trend might be changing with millennials representing the largest segment of the workforce. Millennials are “more highly single” and waiting longer to have families, Harvey said. “We’ve handed the baton to the millennials.”

As the 22nd fastest growing area in the United States, it shows it’s one of the best places to live, said Mervin Jebaraj, assistant director for the Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. He citied the area’s amenities, jobs and low cost of housing compared to other areas.

“This is an attractive place to move. … It’s easier to make a living here,” he said.

Most of the population growth can be attributed to the addition of jobs and the increase in students at the University of Arkansas, Jebaraj said. Northwest Arkansas is home to employers such as Wal-Mart Stores, J.B. Hunt Transport Services and Tyson Foods.

The Northwest Arkansas MSA is the 105th largest metro, behind Portland-South Portland, Maine, with a population of 529,657. Based on Northwest Arkansas’ growth rate between 2010 and July 2016, Rob Smith, communications and policy director for the Northwest Arkansas Council, estimated that the MSA’s population exceeded the Portland, Maine, area earlier this month.

“Over the next two years, it’s a safe bet that we’ll pass Lancaster, Pa., and Youngstown, Ohio,” Smith said. “If the growth stays the same in Northwest Arkansas and the places that are slightly larger than us now, we’ll be living in a top 100 MSA by late 2019.”

Since 2000, the Northwest Arkansas MSA has grown 48%, from 347,045 people. Since 2010, it’s grown 13%, from 463,204.

Population in the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metropolitan statistical area rose less than 1% to 734,662, from 731,542. Since 2010, the population has increased 5%, from 699,757. The Jonesboro metropolitan statistical area saw its population rise 1% to 129,858, from 128,390. Since 2010, the population has risen 7%, from 121,026.

In the Fort Smith metro, the population rose less than 1% to 281,227, from 280,445. Since 2010, the population has risen less than 1%, from 280,467.

As far as county growth, Benton County population rose 3% to 258,291, from 250,581 in 2015. Washington County grew 2% to 228,049, from 224,233. In Sebastian County, its population was nearly flat at 127,793, from 127,590. In Craighead County, the population rose 1% to 105,835, from 104,362. In Pulaski County, growth was almost flat at 393,250, from 392,932.

Between 2015 and 2016, Washington and Benton counties had the most domestic migration in Arkansas. Domestic migration represents the number of U.S. residents who have relocated from one county to another. Benton County gained 5,518 people from migration, and of that number, 4,772 people moved there from another U.S. county. Washington County gained 2,127 from migration and of that number, 1,637 people accounted for domestic migration.

Craighead County gained 885 people from migration, and of that number, 736 accounted for domestic migration.

In Pulaski County, 1,994 residents moved to another U.S. county, but 783 people relocated to Pulaski County from outside the United States, leading to a net migration loss of 1,211 people. When asked about the loss, Jebaraj said while people might be moving from the county, which is where Little Rock is located, they could be relocating to adjacent areas.

Also, Sebastian County saw a net migration loss of 238 people, as 411 residents relocated from the county and 173 people moved there from outside the United States.

As for the metro areas, Northwest Arkansas gained 7,845 people from migration, and of that amount, it had a domestic migration of 6,564 people. The Little Rock MSA gained 369 people from migration, but 718 residents moved from the area and 1,087 relocated to there from outside the United States. The Jonesboro MSA received 923 people from migration, and 759 people accounted for domestic migration. The Fort Smith MSA gained 300 people from migration, as 46 residents relocated from the area and 346 moved there from outside the United States.

The following is the natural increase, which represents the population gains after the difference between births and deaths:
• Benton County, 1,902
• Craighead County, 585
• Pulaski County, 1,781
• Sebastian County, 476
• Washington County, 1,634
• Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers MSA, 3,660
• Fort Smith MSA, 585
• Jonesboro MSA, 560
• Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway MSA, 2,951

For the fourth consecutive year, the fastest growing metro area was The Villages, Fla., which is west of Orlando. The population in The Villages rose 4.3%, from 123,996 in 2016, from 118,882, in 2015. Nine other metro areas in Florida made the top 25 list of fastest growing metro areas in the United States. Rounding out the top five on the list were Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C.-N.C., Bend-Redmond, Ore., Greeley, Colo., and Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.

About 86% of the U.S. population, or 277.1 million people, live in the 382 metro areas, an increase of 2.3 million people from 2015.

As for county data, Maricopa County, Ariz., was the fastest growing county, replacing Harris County, Texas, as the county with the greatest population growth in the United States. The latter county had seen the most growth for eight consecutive years, according to a news release.

Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, added 81,360 people between 2015 and 2016, or about 222 people per day. In the same period, Harris County, which includes Houston, had the second most growth, gaining 56,587 people or about 155 people per day.

The Census Bureau uses “births, deaths, administrative records and survey data to develop” population estimates, the release shows. In May, the Census Bureau will release city and town population estimates and the number of national, state and county housing units as of July 1, 2016.