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State population growth in exurbs

Phoenix Arizona from the Sky Looking Down on the City and the Mountains

Arizona added nearly 109,000 new residents last year. 

But they were picky and choosy about where in the state they decided to live. 

New figures from the state Office of Economic Opportunity showed the state grew at a rate of 1.5% between June 30, 2020, and a year later. That’s how the agency tracks annual growth. 

And the more than 860,000 new residents in the past decade amounted to a 13.4% increase. 

So where did a lot of them go? 

Think about areas near the state’s major population centers, but far enough away to have houses that are affordable. 

Queen Creek, which is big enough to spill over into Pinal County, posted a 10% year-over-year growth in population. Buckeye, on the extreme other end of the Valley, was not far behind at 8.9% 

And since growth for Phoenix to the immediate south is blocked by the Gila River Indian Community, that left Pinal County communities of Coolidge and Eloy at 7.1% and 5.3% respectively. 

The desire for affordable homes also boosted the population of Casa Grande by 4.3% and Maricopa by 4.2%. 

Florence probably should have been on that list somewhere. 

But the official tally shows that community lost close to 1,600 residents over a 12-month period, making it the community with the greatest percentage loss at 6.2%. 

What’s behind that, though, has little to do with the desirability of the community. Jim Quang, the state demographer, said it must do largely with the fact there are fewer people in the custody of the state Department of Corrections there. 

Population in the Eyeman and Florence units went from 9,031 in June of 2020 to 7,796 a year later. 

And the trend continues, with the most recent inmate count at the two facilities now below 7,500. 

Quang said the same thing is at work in Douglas where inmate population dropped by 330 to 1,686 over the course of the year. That translated out to a drop of 232 residents, a decline of 1.4%. 

And growth rates of less than 1% in other Cochise County communities was not enough to have the area keep pace with the rest of the state. 

The flip side of the growth on the exurbs of metro areas is that the anchor cities are growing slower than the rest of the state. 

Phoenix added about 19,000 residents, but only enough to post a 1.2% year-over-year increase. Mesa and Chander grew at 1.1% annually, with Scottsdale at 0.7% and land-locked Tempe pretty much where it was a year earlier. 

At the other end of the area, Glendale added just under 1,900 residents, a 0.7% increase. But nearby Peoria — stretching much further out and with room to grow — managed to post a 1.9% growth rate, increasing to 3.8% for even farther out Surprise. 

The same pattern shows up in and around Pima County where the official figures show Tucson added just 2,925 new residents in the past year, a 0.5% change. Marana’s population, by contrast, had a 4.8% annual boost. 

Oro Valley grew by 2.1% 

South of Tucson, Sahuarita posted a 3.5% year-over-year increase in population. 

And an additional 5,061 residents in the unincorporated areas of Pima County were enough to increase population in those area by 1.4%, still lagging the state. 

But the fact remains that Pima County lags not just Maricopa County but the statewide average. And the key according to George Hammond of the Eller College of Business at the University of Arizona is how the economy is built. 

“Tucson is just a less dynamic economy,” he said, heavily reliant on jobs in federal, state and local government. 

“We just have a lot more of that,” Hammond said. “And it’s just not a growth industry.” 

There is a plus side to all that. Hammond said it tends to make the economy less susceptible to wild swings. 

But he also said that geography plays a role in economic development. 

Hammond said as firms look to locate or expand in Arizona, the Phoenix area is “just more of a draw,” with things like much better airport connections. 

Elsewhere around the state, Prescott Valley continues to grow more rapidly than Prescott, at 2.1% versus 1.8%. But even those were outstripped by a 3.1% population increase in Clarkdale and 2.4% in Chino Valley, though Cottonwood grew by just 1.1% 

Sedona posted a 1.0% growth rate. 

But because the state keeps its figures by county, the bisected community shows a marked difference between the Coconino side which posted a 2.3% increase versus less than 0.6% in the Yavapai County side. 

The story for rural communities was a mixed bag. 

Some 851 new residents of Kingman this past year were enough to boost its population by 2.6%. Safford also grew at a 1.7% rate. And Yuma, at 1.6%, also beat the statewide average, though just barely. 

But Lake Havasu City’s additional 643 people computed out to just 1.1%. The population of Nogales grew by just 0.7%. 

And Flagstaff lost 345 residents, translating to a 0.4% loss. 

 

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