SALT LAKE CITY — It’s not news to anyone that Utah is growing, but there’s now a better picture of what the state’s growth means in relation to the rest of the country, especially over the course of a decade.
New data points released by the Census Bureau on Thursday not only show that population growth in some Utah areas was among the fastest during the 2010s, but that the state had a few of the fastest growth rates in America between 2018 and 2019, as well.
For example, at 15.7%, Utah had the second-highest percentage increase in houses built during the 2010s behind just North Dakota, according to the federal agency. Its 2.2% increase in houses built between 2018 and 2019 was the largest in the nation.
Population increases over the course of the decade indicate exactly where people are flocking to. The area in and around the Point of the Mountain, which is comprised of towns and cities in southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County, had the most growth in Utah over the decade; Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, adds that southwest Utah also experienced large growth.
Data released by the Census Bureau on Thursday showed South Jordan was the fifth-fastest growing large city in the U.S. from 2010-2019 with an estimated population growth of 51.8% during the 2010s. That’s a jump from 51,307 residents in 2010 to an estimated 76,598 residents by 2019.
The list was based on cities with at least 50,000 residents as of April 1, 2010, through estimates taken from July 1, 2019. South Jordan was the second-fastest-growing large city in the west behind just Buckeye, Arizona; Frisco, Texas had the fastest growth in the U.S. at 71.1%.
Since they didn’t have 50,000 residents in 2010, Herriman and Lehi didn’t crack the Census Bureau’s list; however, both also experienced exceptional growth. If you were to go by large cities at the end of the decade, then Herriman was the fastest-growing large city in America during the 2010s, Gardner Institute pointed out. The city located to the southwest of South Jordan doubled from a little over 22,000 in 2010 to about 51,348 in 2019 — an approximate 128% increase. The Census Bureau dubbed it a large city for the first time Thursday along with eight other areas in the U.S.
Lehi’s population increased 46% over the decade and now is estimated to be nearly 70,000 residents. South Jordan and Lehi were the 12th- and 15th fastest-growing U.S. cities if you take into account cities with at least 50,000 residents at the end of the decade.
When looking at places with at least 1,000 residents by July 1, 2019, Vineyard takes the population growth trophy in a landslide. The city, which is located between Utah Lake and Orem, virtually popped up out of nowhere over the past decade. Fewer than 150 people lived there in 2010 before old Geneva Steel land became available for home building; it had an estimated 11,866 residents in 2019, which is an 8,437% increase over the course of a decade.
"What’s interesting to those of us who study Utah in fine granularity is that we knew the story of Herriman, we knew the story of South Jordan, we knew the story of Lehi and certainly Vineyard from our own datasets, but we didn’t realize is how much more rapidly they’re growing than cities and places across the country," Perlich said. "(The data) is giving us some context on what we see locally."
The data also shows Utah’s growth wasn’t slowing down heading into 2020. In addition to the state housing increase and decade population jump, Herriman had the largest growth rate among large U.S. cities from 2018 to 2019, growing 15%.
Of places with at least 1,000 residents in Utah, Vineyard grew the most — jumping 18.5% from 2018 to 2019; Bluffdale, also in southern Salt Lake County, grew 11.8% over the course of a year. Towns and cities in and around the Point of the Mountain accounted for six of the 10 fastest-growing Utah locations between 2018 and 2019, according to Gardner Institute.
"Within the greater Wasatch metropolitan area, the trajectory of household growth and population growth has been pushing further south over this entire decade," Perlich said. "In fact, over the past 20 years, we’ve seen it — where the southern and western parts of Salt Lake County begin to fill out and then spill over into Utah County and across northern Utah County."
There were other places in the state where growth is happening at high rates in comparison with the rest of the U.S. Wasatch County, for example, experienced a 35.5% housing unit growth from 2010 through 2019. It was 10th-fastest among U.S. counties during the decade and Washington County (4%) had the 12th-fastest housing unit growth among counties between 2018 and 2019.
What to expect as the 2020s begin
The data shows an ongoing trend experts have seen over the past few decades: people are moving to areas in the south and west. Large cities in the southern part of the country grew 11.8%, which nudged out the western portion’s 9.1% growth over the decade. Cities in the Midwest grew by just 3.1% and the Northeast grew 1.5%.
Similar trends were found within midsized cities (ones with populations between 5,000-9,999) and small cities and towns (those with populations fewer than 5,000), according to the bureau.
Of course, the data released Thursday was data collected well before the COVID-19 pandemic affected Americans. It leaves Utah and the rest of the country with a lot of uncertainty for now and it may affect numbers at the beginning of the 2020s.
The economic slowdown from the pandemic may shift some demographics in 2020. Perlich believes some Utahns could delay having kids and there might be more deaths as a result of the pandemic; the deaths may not be only from COVID-19 itself but perhaps stress related to it. Those would be short-term changes.
We have a lot going for us. It’s going to be rough sledding for a year, maybe two. But we’ll come out of it and reestablish growth for the 2020s.
–Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Since New York City and other metropolitan areas were hardest hit by the pandemic, Perlich thinks that might motivate some to move out to smaller places or to continue to move out west. That may bring more people out to Utah during the 2020s.
Utah has also fared well economically during the pandemic compared to other states to this point. The state's unemployment rate did spike to 9.7% in April amid the pandemic, but that’s still well below the national unemployment figure, which was 14.7% in April. That might lead businesses to move to the state — thus bringing more homes and people. Perlich added there might be retirees who also look at Utah because of quality of life and health care improvements, as well.
That’s why she thinks Utah will only continue to grow during this decade.
"We have a tough hill to climb together but we will, and when we come out the other side, we’re well-position to reestablish our growth path," she said. "We have a lot going for us. It’s going to be rough sledding for a year, maybe two. But we’ll come out of it and reestablish growth for the 2020s."