Idaho leads the nation in population growth

Published: Dec. 20, 2017 at 10:00 PM MST
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For Eric Ness, all it took was a weekend.

“We were looking for a place that was a little more quiet. We visited here on a vacation to visit some friends, and within a weekend we had fallen in love with the place,” he said.

So in March of 2016, Ness and his wife moved their family from the Seattle area to Twin Falls. He got a job at the College of Southern Idaho, and they found a place to live.

Ness’s story isn’t uncommon for the state. Idaho’s population grew faster than any other state last year, at least according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That fact that doesn’t surprise Ness. He said all the proof he needs is in the development.

“We’ve been here about a year and a half, and we can finally say we remember when that was an open field,” Ness said.

The Census Bureau data draws from July 2016 to July 2017. So Ness isn’t one of the nearly 37,000 people who moved to the Gem State in that span. They would be part of the population jump for the previous year though, which was good enough to make Idaho the third fastest growing state.

The Census Bureau said all told Idaho’s population grew 2.2 percent last year. The state’s neighbors to the south, Nevada and Utah, followed at second and third respectively. Since 2010 nearly 150,000 people have moved to Idaho.

Part of that may be the west in general. At least that’s what Jan Roeser, a regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor, said.

“The west continually has higher growth it seems,” she said.

Roeser points out that it’s not just the top three of Idaho, Nevada and Utah. But Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon all are in the top 10 as far as percentage growth.

What sets Idaho apart is difficult to nail down. Roeser said “vibrant” city centers attract millennials, the state’s national recognition for business growth helps bring people to those jobs, retirees coming to the area to be closer to families contribute and high birth rates in pockets of the state drive up numbers.

In general though Roeser said you can chalk it up to a combination of geography and economy.

“It’s really the place that’s attracting the people,” she said. “But we’ve also got the jobs and the economy that’s going strong.”

All of that is music to Connie Stopher’s ears. She’s the director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization. Part of her job is talent recruitment.

“When we can say we’re number one in growth in the country, that’s a huge selling point for us to be able to say ‘move your business to Idaho,'” Stopher said.

Stopher was thrilled to hear that Idaho took the top spot in population growth. She said the more people that come means the more investment in jobs, education and transportation. It especially helps when she works to get more businesses to set up in Idaho.

“Any time we talk to an employer who’s looking to move from an area, knowing that there are bodies to fill these jobs is top of mind anywhere people are looking,” Stopher said.

The Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce sees the same question from potential businesses.

“Typically the first question we get is whether we have workforce available,” said Shawn Barrigar, the chamber president.

Unemployment in Idaho is less than 3 percent. So Barrigar said seeing that the state has large numbers of people moving in is comforting.

“We need people to move here to fill all these jobs,” he said. “So we’re excited to see the population growth.”