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Why I’m a Bit Skeptical of Population Growth Forecasts

Every time I hear that the population in Summit County is going to be XXXXX (pick a  number) by 2040 or 2050, I cringe a bit. It’s just so far off. Yet we base so many of our decisions and spend so much of citizens’ tax dollars to get ready for this “coming growth.” These forecasts come from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB). The 2010 forecast, with 87% growth by 2040 is what everyone quotes these days.

Yet, let me take you back to a quieter time. A time before the Great Recession struck. A time when home values were rising 10% per day. A time when we were all so innocent. Here is the 2005 GOMB population forecast:


By 2010, Park City’s population was supposed to be almost 11,000. What did it turn out to be? 7,547. That’s only a 45% miss. By 2013, what was the forecasted population? About 12,000. What was it? 7,950.  That’s about a 50% miss.

Now, we get that forecasting is hard but let’s not pretend it’s accurate. This also isn’t to say that there hasn’t been growth. Park City grew about 5% between 2010 and 2013 (the latest years with data). It’s just not near what was predicted and we can’t believe that if over 10 years it’s off that much, that over 30 years it will somehow be better.

So, the next time you hear that Park City’s population is set to boom or that Wasatch County is poised to grow by 7 billion percent, remember that the people forecasting those numbers haven’t exactly been in the ballpark this millennium.


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