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SALT LAKE CITY — Time to break out the Jell-O mold — those new neighbors most likely moved in from out of town.
New population estimates confirm Utah’s changing profile, with more newcomers driving growth in the state as fewer babies are being born.
The shift is especially pronounced in Utah County, where a burgeoning tech industry and more affordable homes are in part credited with drawing in outsiders. The new faces fueled slightly more growth than newborns last year, according to a report out Monday from the state’s top demographers.
“More and more since 2010, this growth is being driven by more net-migration” said Emily Harris with the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “That to us is a really interesting change in the demographic trend.”
Harris and her colleagues based their analysis on census data, tracking Utah’s population growth in the last year and over a broader period dating to 2010. The Beehive State is now home to more than 3.2 million, they report.
Babies have long fueled about two-thirds of statewide growth, Harris said. But the new figures indicate a different trajectory. Almost half of new faces over the last year moved from other states or from abroad, contributing almost 25,000 people.
“When it comes to net-migration, it fluctuates a lot and it’s really dependent on the economy,” Harris said. ”When times are good, you see a lot of movement and you see people moving around.”
Utah County, long known for its large families, added the most residents of any county last year — more than 17,800. But for the only time in the last decade, more than half were not tiny babies. Net-migration, which considers those moving in and out, accounted for 50.1% of growth, compared to natural increase, which is births versus deaths.
Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie has observed the change up close.
The county appraised nearly 6,000 new homes for tax purposes last year, while neighboring Salt Lake County assessed about half that number, he said.
“It brings new economic opportunities. But it also puts a lot of pressure on everything from Utah Lake to our canyons as we try to absorb that population growth,” Ivie said. “It makes you a little nervous, because you’ve got to get it right. You need to make sure you’re doing things to prepare for the future.”
Ivie, a farmer and rancher, said the availability of water is his first concern, but he also worries about agriculture. The county has some of the most fertile ground in the state, exporting tart cherries and beef, he said.
He and his colleagues continue to consider how to preserve the area’s agricultural role, plan for new roads and address issues like homelessness and crime. With growth in mind, the commission has proposed a property tax increase after forgoing such a move a year ago.
“The reality is, new growth doesn’t pay for itself,” Ivie said.
In the statewide picture, Utah’s declining fertility rate plays a part in the change. The Beehive State welcomed just shy of 47,000 newborns in 2019, the lowest since the year 2000.
The downturn fits a national trend of declining births. Although it once held the highest fertility rate in the nation, Utah has slipped to fourth, behind the Midwestern states of South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska.
One reason for the Utah decline is fewer births to teenage mothers. The Beehive State also had a lower rate of fertility among women ages 20-24, signaling Utahns are waiting longer to have their first child, Harris said.
Her research also shows that steady growth has leveled off. The rate over the last year was 1.7%, the same as a year earlier.
Since the 2010 census, Harris found, the state has added about 456,000 new residents, enough to fill BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium about seven times over.
Within the state, Utah’s southwest corner continues to expand rapidly, with the most change in Washington County when compared to a year earlier. The 5.6% increase has upped the population there to more than 180,500.