It’s not the official slogan anymore, but you can still grow here in Hermiston. Portland State University released the first draft of its annual population estimates this week, measuring both county and city numbers statewide.
Umatilla County’s numbers have continued to climb — with Hermiston leading the way — while Morrow County’s have dropped overall.
This year, the county’s population is projected at 80,500. That’s a jump of nearly 8,000 from 2010’s estimate of 72,720. In 2000, Umatilla County’s population was estimated at 70,548.
Planning Director Bob Waldher said the county has seen a lot of economic development and growth, including several new projects that cannot be discussed yet.
“People come here for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Some cities have really low growth and for some, the growth has been staggering.”
Hermiston has seen the largest and most rapid growth in Eastern Oregon, going from 13,260 in 2000 to 16,380 in 2010 and 17,985 this year. Assistant city manager Mark Morgan said he was a little surprised by the increase from last year — a growth of about 255 people.
“I thought we were kind of holding steady along the same number of building starts, so it’s a little more accelerated than I expected,” he said.
Morgan noted that it is difficult to pinpoint any one reason for population growth, but some included increasing property values in the Tri-Cities.
“I think as the (cost) difference continues to widen between Hermiston and the Tri-Cities, we’re picking up more of those people,” he said.
He said another reason for growth was likely a steady increase in employment across sectors.
“It’s difficult to point to one employment generator, but I think what we’ve seen is an increase in employment from existing employers as we get further away from the recession,” Morgan said. “Probably the single largest employer to point to continues to be data centers. They continue to add a substantial number of employees every year.”
Pendleton has seen a fluctuation of roughly 1,000 people over the past 17 years, settling in at around 16,890 this year.
Other Umatilla County towns have seen small growth. Milton-Freewater has gone from 6,495 in 2000 to 7,070 this year. Umatilla has seen a jump of about 2,000 people in the last 17 years, from 5,035 to 7,245.
Stanfield has seen some change, going from 1,990 people in the year 2000 to 2,315 in 2010 and back down to 2,145 this year.
Morrow County’s population has seen less change over the last several years than its neighbor to the east. The most recent numbers estimate Morrow County’s population at 11,890. The projection is lower than the county’s 2010 population, 12,595. The county’s population in 2000 was 10,995.
Morrow County’s fastest-growing city, Boardman, has not had a population boom. Despite the establishment of several large, job-creating companies at the Port of Morrow, Boardman’s population has seen growth of fewer than 1,000 people in 17 years — from 2,910 in 2000 to 3,400 in 2010, and up to 3,555 in 2017.
Karen Wolff, Morrow County’s Human Resources director, said the low numbers in Boardman and throughout Morrow County were likely due to a housing crunch in the area.
She said the county continues to make the issue a focus.
“Housing is a critical need,” she said. “We’re trying to look at ways to bring in housing, and attract people to stay.”
She said building more homes closer to the Port of Morrow is crucial.
“We’re trying to get housing to (get people) to stay in Morrow County, as opposed to the Port of Morrow being west Umatilla County’s largest employer,” she said.
Oregon’s population is growing at a strong clip, driven by people coming from out of state.
The state added 64,750 people between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, following a similar gain the year before, pushing Oregon’s population to more than 4.1 million.
People migrating to Oregon accounted for 88 percent of the jump. The other 12 percent was due to more births than deaths, what’s known as a natural increase.
Because of an aging population and declining birth rates, the natural increase now contributes less to Oregon’s population growth than at any time since the 1930s, PSU researcher Charles Rynerson said Friday. But people from out of state are flocking to the Portland area and central Oregon.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.