Even after a significant slowdown in the local housing market, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Deschutes County as the 60th fastest-growing county in the nation.
According to population estimates released today, the number of residents in Deschutes County ballooned by nearly one-third from April 1, 2000, to July 1, 2006, the most growth of any county in Oregon.
Crook County came in second in the state, adding roughly 20 percent in the same time period. Jefferson County was 12th out of Oregon's 36 counties, growing roughly 7 percent.
The numbers were not surprising, county officials said.
”We've been in the top tier for quite a while now,” Deschutes County Community Development Director Tom Anderson said. ”I don't know if we'll see (population) rise as steeply as it did the past couple years, but I believe it will continue to rise.”
Estimates by the Census Bureau suggest that Central Oregon counties grew faster between July 1, 2005, and July 1, 2006, than the average growth rate over the past six years.
Crook County residents increased by 4.3 percent from 2005 to 2006, easily beating the six-year average of 3.3 percent. Deschutes County posted a growth rate of 5.6 percent, compared with an average of 4.9 percent.
Jefferson County's population grew by 1.7 percent, barely edging out the six-year average of 1.2 percent.
Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said he believes one large component of growth in Prineville is the spillover from more populous Deschutes County.
”We all have known for a long time that there would come a day when price pressure and inexpensive land would drive people in Bend and Redmond across the county line toward Prineville, and I think that day has come,” he said.
Census figures seem to bear out his statement. Roughly 93 percent of all the growth that occurred from July 2005 to July 2006 was ”internal migration” - that is, people moving to the area from another place within the United States.
In Deschutes County, internal migration accounted for about 92 percent of the growth. In Jefferson County, it accounted for less than half of the increase in population, at 48 percent. Births outpacing deaths in Jefferson County accounted for about 41 percent of the population increase.
Births, minus deaths, did not add a significant amount of residents in either Crook or Des-chutes counties, according to the census estimates.
Cooper said he believes one of the biggest challenges lies in making sure economic development keeps pace with growth, even as the larger population leads to more diverse businesses and services.
While the number of people with jobs is rising, so is the county unemployment rate, he said.
The census estimates also give Deschutes County the distinction of being the only county in Oregon to be among the 100 fastest-growing counties in the nation, based on the six-year growth rate.
While the county has ranked among the top 100 for the past two years, it has finished higher each time.
In estimates released last year, Deschutes County ranked 74th in percentage of growth between 2000 and 2005 and ranked 91st the year before. The census bureau uses April 1, 2000, the date of the last census, as a starting point for estimates.
Deschutes County Commissioner Dennis Luke said the population growth brings with it its own challenges and opportunities.
He said he believed population growth has increased cultural opportunities, supported local business and led to an expansion in health care services, all things that benefit the entire community.
But more residents have also created more traffic and more solid waste, reducing the Knott Landfill's expected life by four or five years, he said.
The economy in Deschutes County remains strong, though.
Other drawbacks, he joked, are ”maybe not getting into restaurants, (or) maybe not getting into the movie you want to see the first night.”