The trend of slow population growth continues in the Fort Smith metro, with the population rising just 0.1% to 282,318, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Fort Smith Mayor George McGill said he is not “alarmed” by the numbers.
The metro area added 328 people from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018, the 254th most in the United States, and has become the 171st largest metro area, down one spot from 2017. The Census Bureau measures 380 metro areas.
Since 2010, the population has risen 0.6% from 280,532, and was the 284th fastest-growing metro area between 2010 and 2018. Over the same period, the metro added 1,786 people, the 276th most in the United States, according to the new census data published Thursday (April 18).
Following are the population estimates for counties in the Fort Smith metro.
• Crawford County, Ark.
July 1, 2018: 63,406
July 1, 2017: 62,917
gain of 489
• LeFlore County, Okla.
July 1, 2018: 49,980
July 1, 2017: 49,874
gain of 106
• Sebastian County, Ark.
July 1, 2018: 127,753
July 1, 2017: 127,865
loss of 112
• Sequoyah County, Okla.
July 1, 2018: 41,179
July 1, 2017: 41,334
loss of 155
Sebastian County, the largest in the metro, has seen population grow 1.6% (2,009) between 2010 (125,744) and 2018. Crawford County population is up 2.35% (1,458) since 2010, LeFlore County population is down 0.8% (404) since 2010, and Sequoyah County population is down 2.85% (1,212) since 2010.
CONNECTED TO JOB LOSSES
“It doesn’t alarm me. It would have alarmed me if we had lost population,” McGill told Talk Business & Politics when asked about the new population estimate. “It tells us that we’re holding our own. Certainly, we would like to grow, but relative to many, many areas around the state, we’re holding our own.”
Mervin Jebaraj, director for the Center for Business and Economic Research in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, said the slower population growth partially results from “longer-term trends” like the loss of metro manufacturing jobs.
Manufacturing jobs were an estimated 17,700 in December, unchanged compared to November, and up from 17,400 in December 2017. The manufacturing sector has not replaced the jobs lost from the closure of Whirlpool, Trane and other manufacturers that have closed in recent years. Manufacturing jobs were an estimated 17,700 in February. The sector reached a high of 31,200 jobs in June 1999, a loss of 13,500 jobs, or 43.2%, compared with the February employment.
Total metro employment was 119,037 in February, down 6,209 jobs from peak employment of 125,426 in June 2006.
Jebaraj said the Fort Smith metro is beginning to develop downtown areas and do other things to improve quality of life.
“That stems the flow out … and makes it easier for the companies there to recruit workers,” Jebaraj told Talk Business & Politics.
McGill said regional leaders need to do more to tout what he believes are the benefits of living and doing business in the region. He cited relatively safe cities, friendliness of the people, low cost of living, water quality, available land for development at Chaffee Crossing and other areas, and recent and planned growth of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. The school is a private, nonprofit institution located on 228 acres in Chaffee Crossing. It welcomed an inaugural class of 150 osteopathic medical students in August 2017. Those students will begin their third year in August and graduate in May 2021.
“We’re going to continue to be a viable attraction to industry. We’re going to continue to be a viable attraction to families. … We need to tout the things we often take for granted, like the cost of living … and share it with the rest of the country,” McGill said when asked how the region could boost population numbers.
OTHER ARKANSAS METRO ESTIMATES
The population of the Jonesboro metro area rose 1% to 132,532, and similarly to Northwest Arkansas, Jebaraj attributed the rise to job growth. The Jonesboro metro area added 1,374 people, the 188th most in the United States, and has become the
304th largest metro area, up one spot from 2017. Since 2010, the population has increased by 9.5%, from 121,020, and was the 95th fastest-growing metro area between 2010 and 2018. Over the same period, the metro added 11,512 people, the 191st most in the United States.
The population of the Little Rock metro area, which includes North Little Rock and Conway, increased 0.4% to 741,104. The metro area added 3,113 people, the 115th most in the United States, and remains the 78th largest metro area. Since 2010, the population has increased by 5.9% from 699,796, and was the 159th fastest-growing metro area between 2010 and 2018. Over the same period, the metro added 41,308, the 82nd most in the United States.
The population change for the metro, which includes five counties, has been driven by international migration to Pulaski County, comprising 78.7% of the metro’s population; those moving out of the county; and those moving into Saline and Lonoke counties, said Pam Willrodt, senior demographer at the Arkansas Economic Development Institute.
Between 2010 and 2018, 11,922 people moved from Pulaski County, while 6,320 moved into the county from outside the United States. Meanwhile, 11,161 people moved into Saline County from either another county or state, and 526 moved into the county from outside the United States. Also, 1,855 people moved into Lonoke County, and 837 moved into the county from outside the United States.
The population of Northwest Arkansas, or the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro, increased 2% to 549,128, between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018. The metro added 10,716 people, the 43rd most in the United States, and has grown to become the 102nd most populous metro area, from 104th in 2017.
The Midland, Texas, metro area was the fastest growing area, with a 4.3% population increase, and the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metro had the largest population increase, adding 131,767 people. The fastest growing U.S. county in 2018 with a population of at least 10,000 was McKenzie County, N.D., with a 7.1% population increase. Between 2010 and 2018, Williams County, N.D., was the fastest growing U.S. county, with a 57.8% population increase.
Link here for more data about the new U.S. Census population estimates.
Northwest Arkansas Business Journal reporter Jeff Della Rosa contributed to this report.