There’s a saying, “if you repeat something long enough, soon everyone will believe it.” We are starting to see his point when it comes to population growth in Summit County. It seems like a day doesn’t go by when we here that “Park City’s population will double by 2040” or “Summit County will have 100,000 people by 2030” or “we have to be ahead of the growth” or “we need ____________ because the growth is coming.” Anything someone wants, whether that be Mountain Accord, more transportation funds, or trying to get investors to build another hotel in the Basin it seems founded on those six letters G-R-O-W-T-H.
The thought is so engrained we almost feel stupid for questioning it. That said, we here at the Park Rag aren’t above being stupid.
First, where do those growth calculations come from? Those come from a 2012 report from The Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. It actually states that by 2040 Summit County (including Park City) is projected to have 71,000 people. Right now there are 38,000 people. So, that would be an increase of 33,000 people. Granted, that’s hefty increase of 86%… If it really happens.
First you have to recognize that the Governor’s Office is a political beast. Good growth must mean that Utah is doing well. If 2 million more people want to come to Utah in the next 30 years, that must mean we are doing something right! Yet, that “enthusiasm” for growth doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t happen… it just means we shouldn’t take their word for it. If we look nationally, Pew Research guesses that between now and 2050, the US population will likely grow by 42%. If we look at Utah between 2010 and 2014 it did grow at twice the national average, so perhaps it’s possible for our state. That said, what about Summit County?
One of the most interesting tools we have found is the US Census Flow Mapper. It shows on a county by county level the net migration and where people are coming from and going to. Summit County’s migration looks like this:
This map shows us that in an average year a net 261 people leave Summit County for Salt Lake. People also leave for Cache, Weber, Tooele, and Wasatch Counties. The most people come from Orange County California (282 people per year) with some coming from Davis and Washington Counties. Here is the spreadsheet of datap.
According to the Census Bureau, on average there is a net migration out of Summit County of 429 people per year (during the period they looked at).
The other part of the calculation to determine growth is births and deaths. In 2013, Summit County had 418 births and 146 deaths. That’s a net growth of 272. That still leaves Summit County with a net decreasing population. If we factor in foreign additions and a few other factors we may achieve a little growth.
To be fair, the Census data is from 2008-2012 during a recession and Utah grows more in good economic times. There are also more births during good economic times (for instance there were 595 births in Summit County in 2007). Yet, to turn around low growth to a growth of 3.3% a year is going to be a challenge.
We aren’t trying to be a “popper” here (i.e. someone who denies population growth). However, because so many decisions are based on it, it’s important to keep our eye on it. If their forecasts are right we should grow by about 1,270 (3.3%) people a year, every year. In the roaring years (2000-2010) it appears we grew at about 2.4% per year. Right now, we aren’t even achieving that. Of course, if the California drought continues, all bets could be off, in some sort of reversal of the Grapes of Wrath.
If we are going to make good decisions, we need to constantly monitor the underlying data and adjust our conclusions. We hope our local officials are doing that before they make any huge decisions.