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Kootenai County among fastest growing

Kootenai County and Idaho’s 10 other designated urban areas grew nearly three times faster in 2006 than the rest of the nation’s urban areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Monday.

Kootenai County, which the Census labels as the “Coeur d’Alene Metropolitan Statistical Area,” grew by about 3,785 people, or about 3 percent, for a total population of 131,507.

That makes it the third fastest-growing urban center in Idaho and the 56th fastest growing in the nation.

More telling of Kootenai County’s growth spurt is that since 1990 it ranks as the sixth fastest-growing area in the nation, with an 88 percent population increase.

“That’s just unbelievable,” said Bob Fick, of Idaho Commerce and Labor, which released the Census report. “It’s the reason you can’t find a place to park downtown.”

Idaho’s 11 urban statistical areas, including Moscow and Lewiston, combined showed a population gain of 2.8 percent from mid-2005 to mid-2006. The other 927 statistical areas in the U.S. grew by an average of 1 percent.

The Boise metropolitan area, which includes Ada, Canyon, Gem, Boise and Owyhee counties, is the state’s fastest-growing urban center with a 4.1 percent increase in population. That equates to 22,000 more people, the bulk of the 34,000 total population increase in the 11 urban areas.

Idaho’s total population grew to nearly 1.5 million people, an increase of about 37,100 residents – confirmation that the state continues to urbanize.

Fick said the Census Bureau won’t release population estimates for individual towns within the statistical areas until June.

Idaho Falls was the second fastest-growing urban area with its 3.2 percent population increase. Twin Falls ranked fourth, behind Coeur d’Alene, with 2.8 percent growth, or about 2,500 new residents.

Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem said that the new population estimates for Kootenai County are no surprise and that local officials have been dealing with the demands of a growing population for years.

“Certainly it reinforces that all of us should be working together,” Bloem said in reference to comprehensive planning with the county and other cities, such as Hayden and Post Falls.

She said such rapid growth comes with both opportunities and challenges.

Bloem sees job prospects as a benefit of Kootenai County’s increased population, noting Forbes magazine’s listing of Coeur d’Alene last week as a top small city for business. The city ranked 22nd on the list of 200 “Best Small Places for Business and Careers.”

A downside to the population boost is the ability for local workers to afford homes. Bloem said that’s one area where everyone, from other local governments to advocacy groups, must work together for a solution.

She expects the City Council to rank housing as a top priority in its strategic planning session Thursday. That would mean the city could spend money and staff time finding a solution to help more people afford homes, whether it’s by giving developers incentives to include more affordable homes or changing zoning rules.

Bloem said Kootenai County’s growing pains aren’t unique. “There are trends we are seeing nationwide,” she said.

The seven other Idaho statistical areas each grew less than 1 percent.

The Lewiston statistical area had a population increase of 513 people while the Moscow area grew by 39 people.

The federal government gave Kootenai County the metropolitan designation in 2003 when Coeur d’Alene and its suburbs created an urban cluster of more than 50,000 people, with population densities of 1,000 people or more per square mile. Lewiston and Idaho Falls received the designation the same year.