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Fast-growing Utah continues to be a migration magnet

Rows of homes, in suburban Salt Lake City, April 13, 2019
Rick Bowmer
AP, file
Rows of homes, in suburban Salt Lake City, April 13, 2019

Utah has grown to 3,404,760 residents — with 61,242 of those moving to the state within the last year.

The new eye-popping figures come from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and the Utah Population Committee.

Mallory Bateman, the director of demographic research at the institute, said the growth estimates are based off the 2020 Census, as well as information from local stakeholders who provide insights as to what's going on in their respective communities.

While a majority of the counties in the state saw growth, Utah County is responsible for a significant chunk of it. The county’s estimated 23,980 new residents made up more than 39% of the state's entire population growth between July 1, 2021 and 2022.

Curtis Blair, president and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he knows there are concerns about the rapid growth, but change is inevitable and he's happy to have a front row seat to it.

"Growth is coming, we can be ostriches in the ranch and put our head in the sand, but that won't get us anywhere, we have to address these issues with data, collaborative spirit and what can we do in different pockets of the state," Blair said.

A large part of Utah Valley's growth is due to the tech sector in Lehi.

"There was a time where you could get a degree and go work for Geneva Steel in Orem, well those days are long gone and what's replaced that is this tech sector," he noted.

Blair recognizes other parts of Utah County are also seeing a boom, especially the communities along Utah Lake. In Eagle Mountain, he said there were as many building permits as there are residents.

While Utah County had the biggest share of the growth, other familiar names like Salt Lake, Davis and Washington also lent a hand. Carbon County, found further east in the state, isn’t one of the usual suspects but "it's an area with a lot of potential growth" said Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute Director Natalie Gochnour.

Aside from energy infrastructure, the county also has a major research university with Utah State University Eastern. There's also an airport and close access to Utah County.

Mike Kourianos, mayor of Price City in Carbon County, said people don't realize how much of a hidden gem the city is until they visit.

When he first took over as mayor, he said there were 264 homes on the market, but now there's a significant housing demand in Price.

“We now have subdivisions coming in, so that's exciting for me," he said.

Utah is known for having a strong economy, the committee believes this is driving people to the state.

Bateman said the growth shown in the report is largely in part to people either moving here from another state or people moving from one county to another, also known as net migration. Of the 28 counties that saw growth in 2022, all but one was driven by net migration.

She said the state saw a similar trend in 2005.

Compared to years past when natural increase (the number of annual births minus deaths) was a driving factor in the growth, it has instead declined 38% — the result of fewer babies being born and the number of deaths. The one silver lining was that, in 2022, births did increase slightly for the first time since 2015.

Laura Hanson, the state planning coordinator at Utah Governor's Office, said it's fascinating to see the in-migration play such a strong role in the state’s growth. She believes it's due to Utah's quality of life and housing affordability.

But the growth is not evenly distributed. Hanson said the Governor's Office wants to look at ways to "manage the areas where we're bursting at the seams while directing people to areas that could use more economic development."

Hanson said the data compiled is critical when planning for Utah's future needs as the population grows and diversifies. The Utah Population Committee anticipates additional data sometime in 2023.

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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