In the past decade, metropolitan areas in the South and West saw great population growth. But when the recession hit near the end of the decade, cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix saw their populations plateau. Growth is expected to resume, driven by demographic trends such as the rise of Hispanics, the shifting of the nation’s population center further to the West, and opportunities for jobs in industries like healthcare, logistics, technology, and finance, which rely more on human talent than access to natural resources to prosper. These metropolitan areas with more than a million residents saw the most growth between 2000 and 2009.
2000 Population: 804,000
2009 Population: 1.125 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 40 percent
Being home to such well-known universities as Duke, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest fuels a young and educated population in the “Research Triangle,” which includes Raleigh, Durham, and Cary. The universities are some of the area’s biggest employers, but small businesses also thrive there, with nearly 30,000 in Raleigh alone. In 2009, CNN Money named Raleigh one of the best places for small business startups. Nearby Cary was the third-fastest growing city of 100,000 people or more between 2008 and 2009. A 2009 article in Bizjournals predicts Raleigh will be the fastest-growing metro area through 2025.
Las Vegas metropolitan area
2000 Population: 1.39 million
2009 Population: 1.9 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 36.5 percent
Las Vegas saw huge gains early in the decade due to a robust economy that fueled gaming, tourism, and construction, but when the recession hit, Las Vegas’s growth stalled. Still, the area saw the most growth of any metropolitan area during the 2000s, with North Las Vegas’s population essentially doubling. In 2007, Hispanics made up 28 percent of the county, up from 22 percent in 2000. The Vegas metro area has one of the highest foreclosure rates and one of the largest inventories of vacant homes in the country.
Austin metropolitan area
2000 Population: 1.27 million
2009 Population: 1.7 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 34.7 percent
Austin gets a lot of buzz for being an up-and-coming city, and for good reason. Since 1990, it has nearly doubled in size, and has had a large influx of young, educated workers—43 percent of adults 25 and older there have a bachelor’s degree. Its two week-long festivals—Austin City Limits, which focuses on music, and South by Southwest, a music, film, and culture conference—win annual praise, and bring millions of dollars to the local economy and plenty of exposure to the city. “People come to Austin and they’re able to find an identity--if we were back in the 60s and we had a slogan, we might say ‘There’s a place for everyone in Austin,’” says city demographer Ryan Robinson. “We’ve become a gravitational attractor to well-educated young adults. Then they end up attracting other well-educated young people.” Texas’ state capitol is also home to one of the country’s largest state university systems.
Phoenix metropolitan area
2000 Population: 3.28 million
2009 Population: 4.36 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 33 percent
Like Las Vegas, Phoenix saw huge growth in the early part of the decade. Dan Hunting, a demographer for the Sonoran Institute, a think tank that studies the Southwest, says the growth was unsustainable. “What do people do for a living in Phoenix? They were mainly building houses for the next wave of people to come out here,” he says. “That worked well for decades, but I think that has pretty clearly changed now.” A crackdown on illegal immigration and an economic downturn have led many Hispanics to leave Arizona, which Hunting sees as a negative. “Regardless of legality, this is a demographic that was young and highly motivated to get ahead,” he says. “The fact that these people have left could be a major problem in future years.” It’s not all bad news for Phoenix, though. The city has emerging solar energy and biotech industries that could fuel future growth.