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NWA 18th fastest growing U.S. metro; Benton County leads state’s growth

Bentonville was ranked the fastest-growing city in Arkansas and the 28th fastest-growing city nationwide according to new census data.
Alfredo Carrillo
Northwest Arkansas was ranked the country's 18th fastest growing metropolitan area, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

From Talk Business & Politics:

Northwest Arkansas, or the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro, remained the fastest-growing metro in the state in 2023. Benton County was the state’s fastest-growing county.

On Thursday (March 14), the U.S. Census Bureau released metro area and county population estimates as of July 1, 2023.

Alison Wright, data center division head of the Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI), said the metro estimates were expected with the continued growth in Northwest Arkansas. The metro was the 18th fastest-growing in the United States. Its population rose by 2.3% to 590,337 in 2023 from 576,967 in 2022. The growth rate rank was up from 24th in the previous year. Northwest Arkansas had the 32nd largest population gain in the nation at 13,370. The rank was down from 30th in the previous year.

“That’s what we imagined happening because we see all the counties in that (metro) growing so rapidly,” Wright said.

As the second-most populous in the state, Benton County is the 234th most populous U.S. county. It’s the 118th fastest growing at 2.7% and had the 45th largest population gain at 8,191 in 2023. Washington County is the 277th most populous county in the United States. It’s the 249th fastest growing at 1.9% and had the 100th largest population gain at 4,867 in 2023.

The Northwest Arkansas metro remained the 98th most populous U.S. metro in 2023, the new estimates show. In 2022, it jumped three spots to become the 98th most populous. The metro’s year-over-year population growth rate was 2.4% in 2021 and 2.5% in 2022.

As the state’s most populous, the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metro remains the 80th most populous metro in the United States. In 2021, it fell one spot to 80th and has maintained that rank since then.

The Fort Smith metro slipped one spot to become the 206th most populous U.S. metro. The Jonesboro metro jumped one spot to become the 304th most populous. The Hot Springs metro, which had more deaths than births, fell one spot to become the 364th most populous.

Wright said net migration is largely driving the growth in the metro areas. Net migration accounts for more people moving in than moving out, and the majority comprises domestic migration. In metros that are growing, net migration is more than double the natural increase or more births than deaths.

Nationwide, the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro was the largest with more than 19.49 million residents. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas, metro had the largest population increase, adding 152,598 residents in 2023. The fastest growing metro in 2023 was Wildwood-The Villages, Fla., metro at 4.7%.

Wright said the population rose in 39 Arkansas counties in 2023, the same number that gained residents in 2022.

“The top 10 most populous counties stayed the same, but Sebastian (County) now has moved down to sixth instead of fourth where it was,” she said. “Faulkner and Saline (counties) jumped it, so they’re now four and five…But it’s [Sebastian] still in the top 10.”

Sebastian had more births than deaths, but the negative net migration exceeded the positive natural change, Wright said. Negative net migration means that more people are moving from the county than moving into it. In 2023, the population of Sebastian County, the 510th most populous county in the United States, fell by 11.

Meanwhile, Faulkner and Saline counties are growing and account for a greater share of the Little Rock metro’s population growth than some of the metro’s other counties that are also growing. Faulkner is the 505th most populous county in the United States. It’s the 257th fastest growing at 1.9% and had the 220th largest population gain at 2,386 in 2023. Saline County is the 508th most populous county in the United States. It’s the 306th fastest growing at 1.7% and had the 240th largest population gain at 2,159 in 2023.

Like Sebastian County, Pulaski County also has a negative net migration or more people moving out than in. But unlike Sebastian County, Pulaski County’s positive natural change more than offset the number of people leaving. Pulaski County, the most populous in Arkansas, is the 187th most populous county in the United States. It’s the 1,651st fastest growing at 0.2% and had the 547th largest population gain at 622 in 2023.

Craighead County is the 551st most populous county in the United States. It’s the 672nd fastest growing at 1% and had the 383rd largest population gain at 1,130 in 2023.

Among U.S. counties with at least 20,000 people, Kaufman County, Texas, was the fastest growing at 7.6%. The largest gaining was Harris County, Texas, which added 53,788 residents. The most populous was Los Angeles County, Calif., with more than 9.66 million residents.

Following are the population estimates for the state’s most populous metros, with most of their population in Arkansas:

Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway:
2023: 764,045
2022: 757,768
2020: 748,990

2023: 590,337
2022: 576,967
2020: 549,937

Fort Smith:
2023: 231,280
2022: 229,951
2020: 227,207

2023: 136,390
2022: 135,316
2020: 134,573

Hot Springs:
2023: 99,784
2022: 99,982
2020: 100,258

Following are the population estimates for the state’s 10 most populous counties:
2023: 400,009
2022: 399,387
2020: 399,274

2023: 311,013
2022: 302,822
2020: 286,618

2023: 261,549
2022: 256,682
2020: 246,774

2023: 129,951
2022: 127,565
2020: 123,820

2023: 129,574
2022: 127,415
2020: 123,826

2023: 129,098
2022: 129,109
2020: 127,808

2023: 113,993
2022: 112,863
2020: 111,619

2023: 99,784
2022: 99,982
2020: 100,258

2023: 78,452
2022: 77,616
2020: 76,860

2023: 75,944
2022: 75,199
2020: 74,055

The Census Bureau plans to release the 2023 estimates for cities and towns in May.