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Americans Head South, West Suburban Counties See Biggest Population Jump

Americans are moving west and south, fattening counties near such cities as Denver and Atlanta, the Census Bureau says. Colorado and Georgia each claim three of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

The biggest population jump from 1996 to 1997 was in Colorado’s Douglas County, which surged 12.9 percent. The steepest decline? That was in Alaska’s Ketchikan Gateway Borough County, which lost 4.6 percent of its residents.

The figures, released Tuesday, come from the Census Bureau’s annual estimates of population shifts in the nation’s 3,142 counties.

Demographic maps of metropolitan areas are looking like doughnuts, thinner than before in the central core counties and denser in surrounding counties. The bureau cites Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Nashville, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio as examples of this migration to the suburbs.

Counties pay close attention to shifts in population because numbers of people - more here and fewer there - drive the distribution of dollars from federal and state programs. By and large, fewer people translates to less government help. More people moving to a county opens the gates a little wider.

Three of the fastest growing counties in the United States are in booming Colorado, according to the Census Bureau. There are three more in Georgia and one each in South Dakota, Nevada, Virginia and Texas. All 10 counties are near metropolitan areas.

Douglas County, which witnessed the largest percentage increase of any county in America for the year, is part of the Denver-Boulder-Greeley, Colo., metropolitan statistical area. The county has experienced more than 109 percent growth since 1990.

Kristin French, spokeswoman for Douglas County, says quality of life, a good economy and a lot of open space account for Colorado’s strong showing with three counties in the top ten.

The challenge now is to maintain the qualities that brought those people to Douglas County, she said.

For sheer numbers of people, the list tilted westward.

Maricopa County, Arizona, was the largest gainer with 82,789 newcomers followed by Los Angeles with 61,623 and Clark County, Nevada, with 59,549.

Three other California counties, three counties in Texas and Broward County in Florida also experienced large numerical gains.

“In general, the fastest growing one-fifth of U.S. counties were primarily in the South (56 percent) and West (24 percent),” the Census Bureau reported. “Nineteen percent were in the Midwest, and only 1 percent were in the Northeast.

One-fifth of U.S. counties fit into the category of slow growing and declining, with 87 percent of these in non-urban areas.

Tags: statistics