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Tri-Cities metro area saw fastest growth in U.S.

Operators go through checklists at the main board of the control room at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland last year. (File)
Operators go through checklists at the main board of the control room at the Columbia Generating Station near Richland last year. (File)

The nation’s fastest-growing metro area between 2010 and 2011 was a mere two-hour drive from Spokane.

The Tri-Cities area of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland grew an estimated 4.3 percent from April 1, 2010, to July 1, 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.

While most metro areas saw hiring sag and growth slow the past few years, the Tri-Cities benefited from job growth in the nuclear industry as well as in construction, specialty metals fabrication, health care and food processing.

“Hanford employment and wages are a large contributor to the health of the Tri-Cities economy, representing about 16 percent of total employment,” said Lori Mattson, president and CEO of the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce. “However, we’re diversifying our economy to include more jobs in education, health care and hospitality.”

An attractive quality of life also has drawn more people to settle in the Tri-Cities, said Jordan Youngs, the marketing director for the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau.

“With the best weather in the state along with access to extensive hiking and biking trails, more than 160 wineries within a one-hour drive, picturesque golf courses, three rivers and much more, the region provides an incredible experience for locals and visitors alike,” Youngs said Thursday.

Another Eastern Washington city made a Census Bureau top 10 growth list in Thursday’s report. Moses Lake added 2,145 residents between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011, placing it 10th among micro areas with the largest numeric increase. The city population is 20,366.

Recent population growth in Moses Lake is related to expansion in the manufacturing and technology sectors, aided by the availability of cheap hydropower and inexpensive land.

Several tech companies have built large data storage facilities in the area; a major manufacturer of polysilicon, used in solar panels, and alternative fuel companies moved there; and last year German carmaker BMW AG and a European carbon manufacturing company opened a $100 million plant to produce carbon fibers for the automotive industry.

The Census Bureau defines a metro area as having 50,000 or more residents, and a micro area as 10,000 to 50,000 residents.

The fastest-growing micro area was Williston, N.D., at 8.8 percent. Williston is one of several small cities in North Dakota and Montana experiencing rapid growth due to an oil-drilling boom in the Bakken geologic formation.

Franklin County, Wash., which includes Pasco, was the nation’s fifth-fastest-growing county from 2010 to 2011. It grew an estimated 6.8 percent, the Census Bureau said.


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