Northwest Arkansas leads growth in state, 14th fastest-growing metro area nationwide

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 7,374 views 

Between 2016 and 2017, the population in four of the largest metropolitan areas in Arkansas increased, with the largest rise in Northwest Arkansas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On Thursday (March 22), the agency released July 1, 2017, population estimates for the 382 metropolitan areas, 551 micropolitan areas and 3,142 counties across the nation.

Northwest Arkansas, or the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area, grew 2.3% to a population of 537,463. The area netted 12,287 people or nearly 34 people per day after factoring in births, deaths and migration, between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017. From 2013 to 2017, the population rose 9.1%, from 492,739.

Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, said the area is the 14th fastest growing metro area, accelerating from 20th nationwide from the 2016 revised population estimate, and it’s eclipsed the mark of adding 1,000 people per month. With its low unemployment rate and strong economic growth, the area has attracted people who’ve moved here for a job because of its amenities, including museums, trails, restaurants, parks, kayaking and mounting biking.

As of January, Northwest Arkansas had a 3.2% unemployment rate, the lowest of any metro area in the state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Statewide, the unemployment rate was 4.4%, and the U.S. average was 4.5%.

Over the past year, Northwest Arkansas moved one spot to the 104th largest metro area, leaping ahead of the Portland-South Portland, Maine, metro area, with 532,083 people, while the population for the 103rd largest metro area, Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., declined 0.48% to 541,926. Also, Northwest Arkansas added the 43rd most people of any metro area in the United States, behind Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Fla., which added 12,359 people and had a population of 649,202.

“The acceleration of Northwest Arkansas’ population growth identified in the new U.S. Census Bureau estimates confirms what we see on the ground,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “We are excited about the future for Northwest Arkansas, but our continued growth presents challenges that will need to be addressed in the near future.

“Local leaders will need to come together to determine regional approaches to increase public transit options, ensure that there are affordable housing options, and make sure we continue to prioritize investments in our parks and green space preservation, among other priorities. It appears we will continue to grow, and smart investments will shape how we grow and the quality of life for Northwest Arkansas residents for years to come.”

Within the area, Benton County grew 2.9% to 266,300 people, a net addition of 7,596 people or nearly 21 people per day. From 2013 to 2017, the population increased 11.5%, from 238,902. Washington County grew 1.9% to 231,996, netting 4,396 people or more than 12 people per day. From 2013 to 2017, the population rose 7.6%, from 215,525.

The Jonesboro metro area grew 1.1% to a population of 131,269, adding 1,480 people. From 2013 to 2017, the population increased 4.4%, from 125,685. Within the area, Craighead County grew 1.3% to 107,115 people, netting 1,052 people. From 2013 to 2017, the population rose 5.5%, from 101,513.

Jonesboro, among a lot of agriculture and produce production in east Arkansas, has become a hub for processing food, Jebaraj said. It offers manufacturing jobs and has invested in its amenity mix.

The Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metro area grew 0.67% to 738,344 people and added 4,883 people. From 2013 to 2017, the population rose 2.2%, from 722,455. Within the area, Pulaski County added 279 people, growing to a population of 393,956. From 2013 to 2017, the population increased 0.74%, from 391,068. Other counties included in the area are Faulkner, Saline, Lonoke counties, and respectively, they grew 1.3% to 123,654, 1.5% to 119,323 and 1.6% to 72,898.

Jebaraj said growth has tended to take place in cities, but the Little Rock metro hasn’t followed this trend. This might be because people are relocating for school as well as the ease to commute to Little Rock. The city has made strides to develop its downtown but still has a ways to go, he said.

The Fort Smith metro area, which includes the second largest city in the state, grew 0.38% to 282,086, adding 1,054 people. From 2013 to 2017, the population rose 0.69%, from 280,156. Within the area, Sebastian County grew 0.42% to 128,107, adding 540 people. From 2013 to 2017, the population rose 0.82%, from 127,067. Jebaraj said manufacturing jobs are coming back but in small amounts and added that the city shouldn’t rely solely on manufacturing.

The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area added 146,000 people, the largest increase of any metro area. Maricopa County, Ariz., grew by 73,650 people, the most of any county. The Dallas metro area has historically attracted people there as a result of domestic and international migration, while many of the other largest metro areas in the United States have grown mostly as a result of international migration and a natural rise for growth, said Molly Cromwell, demographer for the Census Bureau.

The majority of the 10 metro areas with the largest increase in population in 2017 were also in the top 10 in 2016. Two exceptions were Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-Va.-Md.-W.Va., which was fifth in 2017, up from 11th in 2016; and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., which went from 13th in 2016 to seventh in 2017. Domestic migration was the driving factor behind the growth of the fastest-growing metro areas, including St. George, Utah, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Greely, Colo., Lakeland, Fla., and Boise, Idaho. St. George had the largest percentage increase in population at 4%.

In 2017, 22.8% of metro areas had a population decrease, and the following top 10 fastest-growing areas experienced a decline in rank as a result of decreases in net domestic migration, or the number of people moving out of the area was larger than the number moving in: Bend-Redmond, Ore., Provo-Orem, Utah, The Villages, Fla., Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., and Austin-Round Rock, Texas. Casper, Wyo., had the largest percentage decrease in population, down 1.7%.

The most populous metro area is New York-Newark-Jersey City, N.Y., with a population of 20.321 million.

Six of the 10 counties that grew the most were in Texas, and all 10 were either in the South or West. Nationwide, 57% of counties grew in 2017, up from 52.7% in 2016. The fastest growing county in the United States was actually a city, Falls Church, Va., with a 5.2% growth rate, adding 715 people, according to the Census Bureau. Falls Church, which is independent from any county, and the top 10 counties grew as a result of net domestic migration.

In 2017, 60.7% of counties had a natural increase in population, or a greater number of births than deaths, down from 61.8% in 2016. A total of 52.9% of counties had positive net migration, or the number of people who moved into the county was greater than the number who moved out, up from 46.8% in 2016. The most populous county in the United States is Los Angeles County, Calif., with 10.164 million people.

Later this year, the Census Bureau is expected to release population estimates for cities and towns as of July 1, 2017.