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Traffic streams along Interstate 15 on Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019, in American Fork. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

It’s no secret that Utah, and Utah Valley in particular, has experienced significant growth in recent years. New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the Beehive State’s population, as a percentage, grew more over the last decade than any other state in the country.

At the same time, state-specific data show that a significant portion of this population growth occurred in Utah County, which grew by more than a quarter.

Utah’s population was 2.7 million in April 2010 and steadily grew for years, according to estimates released by the Census Bureau on Monday. By 2019, the state’s population reached 3.2 million, an increase of 442,067 people, or 16%, over the decade.

The District of Columbia, which is not a state, grew by 17.3% since 2010. The next highest states in terms of growth percentage were Texas, 15.3%; Colorado, 14.5%; Florida, 14.2%; Nevada, 14.1%; and Idaho, 14%.

Ten states saw their populations decline over the last 10 years, including West Virginia, Illinois and Vermont.

Utah ranked 12th in population growth over the decade by raw number of people. Texas, which saw its population increase by 3.8 million people between 2010 and 2019, ranked 1st while Florida, 2.6 million, and California, 2.2 million, took the second and third spots.

With 1.7% population growth, Utah had the 2nd highest percentage of growth between 2018 and 2019, tied with Nevada and Arizona. Idaho ranked 1st with 2.1%.

The census estimates indicate that Utah is defying trends that show declining natural population growth in the country. Fewer births in recent years in the U.S. and an increase in the number of deaths has resulted in natural increase, which is measured by looking at births minus deaths, steadily declining over the decade, a Census Bureau press release says.

Only eight states, including Utah, had more births in 2019 than 2018, according to the Census Bureau. Between those two years, the number of births in Utah increased by 293.

“Our families are big and our families multiply fast,” said Chad Eccles, a senior planning for the Mountainland Association of Governments.

But net migration had a bigger impact on population growth in Utah than high fertility and reproduction rates, Eccles said, noting that people moving into the state outpaced new births in 2019.

State-specific data released by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah show that Utah County has been one of the state’s fastest growing counties since 2010.

Utah County’s population grew by 132,537 over the past decade, according to the policy institute data, which, in terms of raw numbers, is the biggest increase in the entire state. Salt Lake County, which added 121,263 people to its population, was the second largest.

As a percentage, Utah County experienced the 4th largest growth rate in the state at 25.5%. Wasatch County grew by 38.9% while Washington County and Morgan County grew by 30.2% and 28%, respectively.

Eccles said a number of factors contributed to the county’s growth, including business development in Silicon Slopes and more higher-education opportunities with the growth of Utah Valley University.

“People are just drawn to the quality of life that we see here,” the senior planner said.

If growth continues at such a rapid rate, Utah County’s population will rival that of the current most populous county, Salt Lake County, by 2060, according to Eccles.

To some, population growth means more economic opportunities and development. Others see growth leading to congestion, overcrowding and increased air pollution.

“In my opinion, growth is neither inherently good nor bad,” said Ben Abbott, an assistant professor of environmental science at Brigham Young University. “It’s a matter of how intentional we are with the growth” and the planning measures that are taken.

Abbott said there are three keystones to sustainable growth: Encouraging high-density housing in the right places, investing in energy-efficient infrastructure for homes and businesses and developing mass transit infrastructure.

Without sustainable planning, Utah County “could very quickly become a place that’s not that great to live in (and) that has huge transportation and pollution problems,” Abbott said.

On the other hand, “the growth could be a positive thing for Utah County” if adequately planned for, he said.

“The choice really is ours what the future looks like,” said Abbott. “The single number of how many people are going to be (here) doesn’t reflect what the actual quality of life will be.”

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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