Although in a steady population decline a few decades ago, Salt Lake City's redevelopment and growth among young families allowed it to add more residents last year than any other Utah city even if its growth rate was not as fast as its Utah County cousins.
"That is a continuing reversal of trend that is important," said University of Utah research economist Pam Perlich of Salt Lake City's rebounding population.
But probably most interesting is what is happening in Utah County and southern Salt Lake County. "That is the epicenter of growth right now," Perlich said.
Consider the list of cities with Utah's fastest growth rates in 2011: Heber, 3.8 percent; Saratoga Springs, 2.9 percent; Spanish Fork, Highland, Eagle Mountain, Springville, Pleasant Grove, Lehi, Lindon and Payson, all 2.8 percent; and American Fork and Orem, 2.7 percent. Trailing not far down the list at No. 15 is Provo at 2.5 percent.
State demographer Juliette Tennert noted most of Utah's post-recession growth has come from births, not immigration attracted by economic opportunity (which slowed or disappeared).
"So you would expect the biggest growth to come where the fertility rate is the highest," she said, "and that's Utah County."
Perlich added that Utah County also has plenty of new, affordable residential growth, especially in its northern end. "We're also getting a lot of economic growth there, if you look at the new Adobe facility and the new Camp Williams development" that will house a vast computer "spy center" for the National Security Agency.
Perlich and Tennert said that should help ensure continued rapid growth there, which may also be aided by soon-to-be completed expansion of Interstate 15 in Utah County and the new FrontRunner commuter rail between Provo and Salt Lake City.
"There's been a tremendous investment in transportation infrastructure to connect Utah County to the Salt Lake area," Perlich said. "So you have the possibility of more and more people who work in Salt Lake County commuting more quickly from Utah County. So both as a place of residence and work, Utah County is a real growth area."
She noted southern Salt Lake County boasts many of the same characteristics as northern Utah County and Herriman, South Jordan and Riverton, all with 1.9 percent growth, are not far behind.
Of note, these population estimates are used for distribution of a variety of government funding.
Another area of relatively high growth last year was St. George and Hurricane, which both clocked in above 2.5 percent. Growth had skyrocketed there before the economic slide, but skidded once it hit.
"This shows they are coming back," Tennert said. "We expect to see growth continue there, but at a more steady pace than before."
For its part, Salt Lake City added an estimated 3,459 residents last year the most of any Utah municipality and scored a growth rate of 1.9 percent. Perlich notes that in the late 20th century the city had been in a slow population decline, which had reversed more recently.
"This shows Salt Lake City is an area of growth again," Perlich said, "with all the redevelopment it has had with things like the new City Creek [Center] development and all the new condos downtown."
Mayor Ralph Becker said the upswing shows "Salt Lake City is on the rise and our quality of life, economic opportunities and commitment to forward-thinking policy are factors that distinguish us as a great place to live, raise families, work and recreate."
He added that the growth "certainly speaks well to our investments in transit, infrastructure, sustainable long-term planning and redevelopment projects. We welcome these new residents and will continue the work of ensuring the ongoing vitality of this great city."
Perlich added that the city the nation's 123rd largest has a diverse population with many immigrants, who tend to be in childbearing years and have larger families. "That helps its growth."
Data show that Brigham City has the slowest growth among Utah cities of at least 10,000 population, just 0.6 percent. Perlich said it has been economically depressed because of layoffs in recent years at ATK.
Growth was also relatively slow around Ogden and northern Davis County.
"That historically has not been an area of rapid population growth," Perlich said. "The big mainstay institutions there, like Hill Air Force Base, are steady but not in a growth mode."
More on the Web
Go online at sltrib.com to view estimated growth rates and populations for all Utah cities and towns.
Where SLC ranks
Salt Lake City, with an estimated 189,899 residents, ranks as the nation's 123rd largest city. Utah's smallest incorporated area is Scofield, population 24.