Provo-Orem, Heber City and St. George and, to a lesser extent, Salt Lake County were among the fastest-growing places in the nation in 2011, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
But not everywhere in Utah is booming. Estimates also showed that rural Beaver, Carbon, Emery, Garfield, Piute and Wayne counties all lost population last year.
"It's not that we are booming economically in Utah. But relative to other places, we are doing a little better so that is attracting some people to come here for economic opportunity, or to stay here or move around in the state," said state demographer Juliette Ten-nert. "Also, we have a lot of natural increase [more births than deaths]. We have a high fertility rate and a lot of women in childbearing years."
The Census Bureau released 2011 population estimates on Thursday for counties, metropolitan areas and micropolitan areas (places between 10,000 and 50,000 population). Last December, it released 2011 estimates for states which then said Utah was the second fastest-growing in the nation (behind Texas) with a 1.9 percent increase from 2010 to 2011, more than double the 0.9 percent average growth nationally.
New estimates show some areas of Utah are surging even more.
The Heber City micropolitan area, for example, grew by 3.8 percent or four times faster than the national rate. That made Heber the seventh fastest-growing such area in the nation.
Meanwhile, the Provo-Orem metropolitan area grew by 2.7 percent, or three times the national average. It also finished as the nation's seventh fastest-growing metropolitan area.
Metro St. George landed at No. 11 out of 366 metropolitan areas nationally with 2.6 percent growth. Metro Salt Lake City was No. 40 at 1.9 percent. Logan was No. 64 at 1.7 percent. Ogden-Clearfield was No. 77 at 1.6 percent.
Among counties with at least 10,000 population, Wasatch was the 29th fastest-growing in the nation (at 3.8 percent) and Summit was No. 36 (at 3.5 percent). By numeric jump, Salt Lake County was No. 32 in the nation (adding an estimated 19,300 people in the year) and Utah County was No. 49 (adding nearly 14,000).
Even with its relatively quick growth, Salt Lake County dropped from the nation's 38th most populous county to No. 39 surpassed by Travis County, Texas, home of the state capital of Austin. (A chart showing new population estimates for all counties in Utah is online at sltrib.com.)
Heber City Manager Mark Anderson explained growth there, saying, "A lot of people here work in Summit or Utah counties, but prefer to live here. It's a little slower pace of life, with access to recreational activities and a high-quality lifestyle."
Utah County Commissioner Larry Ellertson sees numerous reasons for the relatively high growth in his county.
"Several significant businesses have located here in the past year," he said. "We also had a number of big construction projects that may have brought people here to find employment or kept some here who otherwise might have moved."
Among businesses moving or expanding in Utah County, he said, were Microsoft and Adobe. Major construction projects include the Interstate 15 rebuild and the huge new National Security Agency computer center near Camp Williams.
"We are also looking forward to some more companies coming in the near future," Ellertson said, "but they are not yet ready to announce their plans."
The commissioner also notes that Utah County has among the highest fertility rates in the nation, so most of its growth comes from births.
Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah, said helping accelerate that trend was the recent conversion of Utah Valley University into a full university, attracting more students many of whom marry and have children. Along with Brigham Young University, she said, that shift creates an especially high birthrate.
Growth in St. George was perhaps the most surprising and welcome.
"The recession had been worse here than in other parts of Utah," said Lecia Langston, regional economist in St. George for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. "The boom was bigger here because of the housing market, and the bust was bigger, too. It's good to see it turning around now, but I guess that's easier to do once you hit rock bottom."
During the decade between 2000 and 2010, St. George was the second-fastest growing metro area in the nation. The Census Bureau noted that other areas of fast growth in the previous decade have slowed dramatically as their booming housing markets collapsed.
For example, Palm Coast, Fla., fell from the No. 1 fastest-growing metro area to No. 55. And Las Vegas plunged from No. 3 to No. 155. St. George remained fairly high, slipping from No. 2 to No. 11.
The areas that lost population in Utah were all rural. The Census Bureau estimated that they all had natural increase (more births than deaths), but lost population due to people leaving likely to find work.
Piute County had the biggest drop by percentage, 3.8 percent; followed by Wayne, 1.5 percent; Beaver and Garfield, 0.5 percent; Carbon, 0.4 percent; and Emery, 0.3 percent.