March 14, 2013

Explosive growth continues in Dallas-Fort Worth

Have new neighbors? The area added 131,879 people in a year.

The explosive growth across Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington and much of Texas isn't slowing down.

The DFW metropolitan area recorded the largest increase in the nation from July 1, 2011, to July 1, 2012, adding 131,879 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today.

The 2 percent uptick pushed the Metroplex population to 6,700,991.

Since the April 1, 2010, census, DFW's growth spurt is even more impressive: The population has increased by 4.3 percent, or 274,781 people.

The Houston metro area was ranked No. 2 in growth over the one-year period, adding 125,185 people to reach 6,177,036. Since 2010, it has also grown by 4.3 percent, adding 256,579 people.

"What we are seeing is a continuation of very robust growth. When you see the No. 1 and No. 2 biggest gainers are Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, you are seeing a state that continues to have phenomenal growth," said Steve Murdock, a Rice University professor and former census director.

"The large population centers, particularly the triangle group of Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin-San Antonio and Houston, have been the growth drivers in Texas. And their growth is absolutely driven by jobs," he said.

The same holds true in smaller metro areas in the midst of the oil and gas boom across Texas and the Great Plains.

Midland was the fastest-growing metro area as its population increased by a whopping 4.6 percent in one year. Nearby Odessa was No. 5, growing by 3.4 percent.

Austin-Round Rock was No. 7, growing by 3 percent, or 53,595. Since 2010, the Austin area has added 118,017 people, a 6.9 percent increase.

Among U.S. counties, Harris had the biggest numeric increase (80,000), followed by Los Angeles and Maricopa, Ariz., which each added 74,000.

Dallas County (46,000) was ranked No. 4, Travis County (34,000) No. 7 and Tarrant County (33,000) No. 9. Texas had 11 counties among the 50 fastest-growing, as well as 11 among the top 50 in numeric gains.

A solid indicator of the state's economic health is that migration hasn't lost momentum, Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter said.

DFW had a natural increase (births minus deaths) of 58,974 but added 72,401 through net migration in the one-year period. That's about 198 new migrants every day.

No. 2 Houston wasn't far behind, adding 40,345 residents from elsewhere. No. 3 Phoenix added 37,025, followed by No. 4 Austin, with 30,324.

"Migration is not slowing down. We are seeing significant domestic migration, but international migration is right up there as well. We have people moving here from all over the country and all over the world," Potter said.

"This adds to the understanding that Texas is a destination state. If you look at where migrants go, they are going towards economic opportunities. Part of that is employment, but you also have the economics of the low cost of living in Texas. Every migrant is making an economic decision."

The soaring plains

The oil and gas boom is driving growth across the Great Plains, the census report said.

"After a long period of out-migration, some parts of the Great Plains -- from just south of the Canadian border all the way down to West Texas -- are experiencing rapid population growth," said Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau senior adviser performing the duties of director.

"There are probably many factors fueling this growth on the prairie, but no doubt the energy boom is playing a role. For instance, the Permian Basin, located primarily in West Texas, and North Dakota accounted for almost half of the total U.S. growth in firms that mine or extract oil and gas, during a recent one-year period," Mesenbourg said in a news release.

The energy sector is fueling growth across Texas and the nation, said Bud Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University.

"There's no question we are in the midst of an energy boom unlike anything we've seen since the 1970s, and the difference this time is not just in Texas, Oklahoma and the Southwest. It's all over the country. Wherever there is drilling and production of oil and gas from shale plays, you are seeing significant population and job growth," he said.

Jobs drive growth

Weinstein believes that the energy sector will continue to drive growth.

"This could continue for a long, long time if we have policies in Washington that are supportive of fossil fuel development. That's the big unknown," he said.

"People follow jobs. That's been true for a long, long time. We're seeing a big pickup in migration from other states, and there's no reason that it shouldn't go on for a long time if Washington doesn't screw things up."

But outside the energy boomtowns and the five big metro areas in Texas, many rural counties in the state are losing population, Murdock said.

"There is still a feast-and-famine situation in Texas. From 2000 to 2010, there were 79 counties that were declining. From 2010 to 2012, there are now 96 counties that are declining," he said.

Two years ago, Murdock thought migration into Texas might slow as the rest of America bounced back from the Great Recession. "That's not happening," he said. "Every time I bet that Texas growth will slow down, I lose."

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981

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