In the eyes of the U.S. Census, Spokane and Coeur d’Alene have been merged into a single metropolitan area with a population of 609,000 people.
The combined statistical area ranks “Spokane-Coeur d’Alene” as the 87th most-populous metropolitan area in the United States, just behind Boise.
The designation has been anticipated for years and business boosters hope the placement in the top 100 largest U.S. population centers earns the region a closer look by companies looking to expand. It could also help the region collect more federal funding.
Michaellyn Garcia, a Census Bureau geographer, said both Spokane and Kootenai counties will retain distinct statistical identities, but commuter traffic crossing the state line reached numbers that merited a statistical combination. While the census provides the figures, the decision to combine two statistical areas is made by the by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
Spokane County has a population of 471,000; Kootenai County has 138,000.
Spokane has embraced the idea of a combined statistical area for years. Coeur d’Alene, however, had rejected the notion, fearing a loss of identity and not wanting to jeopardize its brand as a scenic destination.
Yet during the past decade the areas continued to grow closer and traffic thickened along Interstate 90 connecting the communities.
“It was inevitable this time,” said Patrick Jones, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis at Eastern Washington University.
“If you’re in Top 100 list, the thinking goes, you’re going to be more visible as a place for business to come,” he said.
The statistical change will not occur until 2013, Garcia said.