Across the Divide: Census Population Estimates for 2017

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Across the Divide

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April 6, 2018

The Census has released its population estimates for 2017.  For the first time since the recession ended, the population appears to be shifting back to the suburbs, small cities, and rural areas:

The report found that large urban areas are still the fastest growing areas in the United States.  But small metro regions have seen their population growth increase for two years in a row.  And, for the first time since 2010, rural counties have seen positive population growth as well.

In contrast, La Plata County has seen steady population growth throughout the decade.  In fact, at 1.2% per year, La Plata County has been one of the fastest growing small towns in the United States.  However, from 2016 to 2017 population growth slowed dramatically, to about 0.6%.  That is the slowest growth we’ve seen since the recession.

Incidentally, the fastest growing micropolitan region in the United States is Bozeman, Montana (aka “the town Durango High School graduates move to when they want to leave Durango without leaving Durango”), a trend that has been consistent throughout the decade.

We are tempted to explain La Plata County’s slow population growth as part of the economic troubles facing the San Juan Basin, but there is another local oddity in the data.  According to the new Census estimates, the loss of population in Farmington, NM never happened.  The Census revised Farmington’s population upward by 12,000 people in 2016 alone.

After taking a closer look at the data, we’re not buying it.  The adjustment to Farmington’s population is an 11% increase.  The next largest adjustment in any county in the United States was just over 2%.  And three of the four counties near Farmington- McKinley (Gallup), Cibola (Grants), and Rio Arriba (Espanyola)- all saw downward revisions to their population estimates for 2016.

Is everyone in northern New Mexico suddenly moving to San Juan County?  Probably not.  But the population trends nationally seem to be shifting back to historical norms of modest rural growth, faster small city growth, and suburban expansion in our largest metro areas.  Whether La Plata County and the Four Corners benefits from this will likely depend on renewed job growth in our region.

-Roger Zalneraitis, Executive Director

Hat tip to Eben Harrell for alerting us to this Brookings report!

If you come across an article on business, politics, or economics that can have an impact here in the Four Corners, send it over to and we will give you a special thank you courtesy of the investors in the Economic Development Alliance!