Fueled by a surging Hispanic population, Fort Worth grew 38.6 percent to 741,206 residents in the last decade, far outpacing other major Texas cities, according to census figures released Thursday.
Tarrant County added people almost as fast, jumping by 25.1 percent to 1,809,034 residents. Dallas County's population grew by just 6.7 percent. (Tarrant County chart|Search for detailed info by county.)
Towns ringing Tarrant County also showed spectacular growth, in places like Roanoke (112 percent), Mansfield (101 percent), Burleson (75 percent), Crowley (72 percent), Saginaw (60 percent) and Aledo (57 percent). Tiny Westlake went from 207 residents to 992, an increase of 379 percent.
The growth in the area was stronger than in the state as a whole. Texas' population swelled by 20.6 percent over the decade to 25,145,561, according to census data released in late December. Texas has added 4.2 million people since 2000, more than any other state.
By comparison, the U.S. population grew to 308,745,538, up 9.7 percent since 2000, the slowest growth rate since the Great Depression.
"It's been a phenomenal run for Texas," demographer Steve Murdock said. "Texas grew by nearly 4.3 million out of 17 million in the country. That's almost a quarter of the total growth of the nation."
With the bulk of new residents moving to big cities and their sprawling suburbs, rural areas are shrinking, especially in West Texas, state demographer Lloyd Potter said.
A growing number of counties now have fewer than 1,000 people, leaving vast stretches empty.
"If you look out west, the trend is for counties to be barely holding their own or shrinking," Potter said. "East of Interstate 35, the same thing is happening in some areas."
But the dominant trend in Texas is the rapid rise of the Hispanic population.
Hispanics accounted for nearly two-thirds of Texas' growth between 2000 and 2010 and now constitute 38 percent of its population. Anglos dropped to 45.3 percent and blacks made up 11.5 percent.
"The Hispanic growth was even larger and the Anglo population was lower than we anticipated," said Murdock, a former director of the U.S. census.
"It's a very large-scale diversification across the state, including in suburban areas," he said. "Texas is the U.S. of tomorrow. We are seeing a major slowdown from Anglo majority to minority, not just in cities but across Texas."
The Anglo majority is receding in cities across Tarrant County.
In Bedford, the black population has almost doubled, and Anglos have declined from 88 percent to 81 percent. Southlake changed from 95 percent Anglo to 88 percent. And in Mansfield the Anglo population went from 86 percent to 74 percent.
"We used to think of suburbs as lily-white enclaves, but not anymore," Murdock said.
The percentage of Hispanics is also growing across the county. Latinos make up 39 percent of the population in Haltom City; 34 percent in Fort Worth; 27 percent in Arlington; 16 percent in North Richland Hills; and 15 percent in Mansfield.
The population growth among Hispanics, blacks and Asians is already evident in the increases in minority-owned businesses, said Dallas demographer Edward Rincon of Rincon & Associates.
"They're coming here, not just to live, but also to establish businesses and establish their economic footing here," he said. Urbanization of Texas
Meanwhile, Texas continues to become more urban.
Most of the state's growth came in the "Texas Triangle" marked by Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-Galveston and San Antonio-Austin. Add in the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley, and those four regions accounted for nearly 90 percent of the state's population increase, Potter said.
Fort Worth, which has aggressively annexed land and now stretches into four counties , led the way -- adding 206,512 people for a total of 741,206.
During the same period, landlocked Dallas grew by only 0.8 percent to 1,197,816. Houston, still the state's biggest city, grew by 7.5 percent to 2,099,451; San Antonio grew by 16 percent to 1,327,407; and Austin grew by 20.4 percent to 790,390.
Fort Worth's national ranking won't be known until the Census Bureau has released data for all 50 states. Only 11 tallies have been released so far.
Factors in Fort Worth's rapid increase include immigration, job seekers from other parts of the country, high birthrates and longer life spans.
City officials are also quick to say that the growth reflects the city's reputation as a destination for individuals and corporations.
But some residents wonder whether the growth hasn't outpaced the city's ability to pay for that high quality of life, especially in these days of budget deficits.
"The biggest challenge facing us is trying to keep up with infrastructure and to build our city in a sustainable manner," Mayor Mike Moncrief said.
The amount of money dedicated to infrastructure -- specifically streets, roads and bridges -- hasn't changed over the past 10 years, said Horatio Porter, the city's budget director.
"We've got to work with our partners and the state and federal government on our transportation and mobility needs," Moncrief said.
The growth is even more visible in smaller communities across the region.
Curtis Tally has watched in amazement as subdivisions sprouted up on what was farmland around his Justin Feed Co. in southern Denton County.
Growth spreading north from Fort Worth's Alliance Corridor has shifted his company's focus from rural customers to suburban ones. Justin has grown from 1,891 residents in 2000 to 3,246 in 2010, a 72 percent increase.
"We were selling seed for pastures; now we're selling seeds for lawns," said Tally, 74, who has been in business in Justin since 1958.
" Phenomenal is as good a word as you can use for it," he said of Justin's growth. "We used to be really country but not anymore."
In Keller, which grew by 45 percent, school board President Cindy Lotton said the influx of students changes many aspects of school operations. The district had to not only build schools but also furnish and staff them, pay for heating and air conditioning, and provide buses. For every 22 elementary students who arrive, a new teacher has to be hired.
"It's a domino effect," she said. "You're reassessing programs. You're reassessing staffing. You're re-evaluating everything. You can't do school the same way. Kids have different needs."
Traffic seems to be the biggest barometer of change for people like Aledo real estate agent Susan West.
At one time, she said, "I could drive through town, no big deal. Now it will take me 20 minutes to get home from the freeway -- and it's three miles.
"When I came here in 2002, there were 158 kids in the graduating class, and now there are about 358. Aledo was the escape, but now it has become a city."
At Ray's Pharmacy in Mansfield, where the population has doubled in 10 years to 56,368, owner Danny Ray says the growth has noticeably increased traffic and the number of chain restaurants.
"Those chains would never even look at us before. Now they are all here," he said with a laugh.
"The perception of our town has changed," said Ray, whose business was started by his father in 1954. "In the last 10 years, we've gone from a little country town to a place known for its growth."
But along with more subdivisions and more retail competition, Ray sees more opportunity.
"We used to have three doctors in town, and now there are 325 doctors on the staff at the hospital. The changes are mind-boggling."
Staff writers Eva-Marie Ayala, Darren Barbee, John Henry, Scott Nishimura and Lee Williams contributed to this report.