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County’s growth greatest since ‘92

Spokane County’s population grew over the last three years at the strongest rate since 1990-1992.

Meanwhile, a slowdown in the northward migration of Californians contributed to a slight decline in Washington’s population growth in the 12-month period that ended April 1, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

The county has added at least 7,400 new faces annually since 2004 after a decade when growth exceeded 6,000 only once and, in 1999, amounted to just 1,226. The increase in the recent period was 7,800, the most for a single year since 1992.

The additions lifted the county’s population to 459,000, a 1.73 percent gain for the year and a 9.82 percent gain since 2000.

The state added 99,600 residents in the most recent 12-month tally, the first time in three years the number did not exceed 100,000. Almost 6.6 million people now call Washington home, an 11.77 percent increase since 2000.

Teresa Lowe, the state’s chief demographer, said less migration into Washington accounts for much of the decline in growth. Plunging real estate values in California, where as many as one-half of newcomers hail from, have kept some people from moving, she said.

In the early 1990s, Lowe said, as many as 40,000 Californians traded their driver’s licenses for ones from Washington. Only 27,900 made the swap last year.

The same is true for many other states, Lowe said.

Avista Corp. economist Randy Barcus, who also said California’s woes weigh on Washington and Spokane, noted job availability made the transition easy for those who wanted to move.

The county has added more than 12,000 jobs over the last three years.

Now, Barcus said, if Californians are offered a job but can’t sell their house, they turn down the job.

He said he expects the in-migration slowdown to be temporary. California’s fortunes should improve slightly in 2010 and significantly rebound in 2012, he said.

Spokane County’s growth rate since 2000 ranks 15th in the state. Spokane County trails King, Pierce and Snohomish counties in total population.

The city of Spokane, with 204,400 residents, remains ahead of Tacoma, with 202,700, for second place among Washington cities.

Spokane and the city of Spokane Valley grew at a rate of less than 1 percent in 2007, compared with Liberty Lake at 6.1 percent, Airway Heights at 4.2 percent, Deer Park at 3.4 percent and Medical Lake at 2.4 percent.

With a 42.3 percent surge since 2000, Franklin County’s growth has far outdistanced that of the state as a whole, buoyed by strong growth in the Tri-Cities. Franklin County’s increase was almost double that of the 22.9 percent increase in No. 2 Clark County.

Only Garfield County, in the southeastern corner of the state, lost population. The loss of 97 residents represented a 4 percent decline.