Population hits 200,000 and still growing

If the streets seem a little more crowded and the stores a little busier this fall, it's because Jackson County added enough new residents over the past year to fill two small cities.

Population estimates prepared by Portland State University indicate the county added nearly 3,700 new residents — the equivalent of Gold Hill (population 1,080) and Jacksonville (2,635) — in the 12 months between July 1, 2006 and July 1, 2007.

The county's growth exceeded the state's growth for both the past year and the current decade.

PSU demographers estimated Jackson County's population at 202,310 on July 1, a 1.9 percent increase over July 1, 2006, and an 11.6 percent increase since the U.S. census of 2000. Over the past year, Oregon as a whole added 54,950 residents (a 1.5 percent increase) and since 2000, Oregon grew by 9.5 percent, to 3.75 million people.

Oregon law requires the annual population estimates as a mechanism for distributing certain tax revenues. PSU compiles information from the cities about building activity and collects statistics on births, deaths and migration in and out of Oregon to compile the estimates.

About one-third of Jackson County residents, 75,675, live in Medford. Ashland remains Jackson County's second largest city, with 21,630 residents, but Central Point is closing in, with 17,025 people. Eagle Point has 8,565 residents, an increase of 78.6 percent since 2000.

Medford remained Oregon's eighth largest city, trailing Portland (568,380) Eugene (153,690), Salem (151,895), Gresham (99,225), Hillsboro (88,300), Beaverton (85,560), and Bend (77,780).

Only five of Oregon's 36 counties grew faster than Jackson County during the past year, including three in Central Oregon. Deschutes County's grew at a 5.4 percent rate (8,195 people); Crook County, 5.5 percent (1,360 people); and Jefferson County, 2.9 percent (620 people).

Washington County grew at a rate of 2.1 percent, adding 10,490 new residents. Josephine County added about 1,200 new residents, (a 1.6 percent increase) and its population rose to 82,390. The city of Grants Pass now has about 31,000 people.

Officials in Eagle Point and Central Point said the rapid growth that characterized the early 2000s has slowed dramatically, dampened by a slower national economy, tighter lending policies and a slowdown in the housing market.

Growth has also slowed in both cities because most of the land within the cities' existing urban growth boundaries has been developed.

"There's very little opportunity for additional new subdivisions," said Dave Hussell, city administrator for Eagle Point. He noted that the city's residential growth has spurred interest in commercial development.

The current construction slowdown has forced Central Point to eliminate several positions in the building department, City Administrator Phil Messina said.

Hussell said he expects Southern Oregon will continue to attract new residents, even if the pace of growth slows.

"Why would they not move here?" he said.

"Southern Oregon still has a huge attraction for lots of people from other areas where they have problems we don't have yet."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail:bkettler@mailtribune.com

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