2010 Census: A decade of gains and challenges

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

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Only in Clark County would population growth of 23 percent over a decade be considered slow.

Clark County’s expansion over the past 10 years fell well short of the 45 percent growth of the previous decade, according to U.S. Census figures released Wednesday.

“Obviously the economic downturn has played a major role in the slowdown of growth in our county,” Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart said. “If you look at the percentage year by year, you can see a pretty direct correlation between rise in unemployment and foreclosures and the slowdown of growth.”

The county added 80,125 residents between 2000 and 2010 — about a quarter fewer than in the 1990s — to reach a population of 425,363.

The county remains the fifth most populous in Washington, a ranking it has held since 1980. Only Franklin County in the Tri-Cities area grew faster.

And in the Portland metro area, Clark County was the fastest-growing county.

“We’re a great place to be,” Stuart said. “Our work is to make sure that the great place that brought people here keeps people here.”

Land supply fueled Clark County’s quick pace of growth relative to other Portland-area counties.

“I hate to call (Clark County) a blank canvas, but there were a lot of places inside the growth-management area with infrastructure, ready to be built,” said Rex Burkholder, a member of the Metro council, the Portland-area regional government. “You look in Portland and Multnomah County, and you don’t have large open spaces ready to be filled.”

The long-awaited results of the 2010 Census will trickle out in the coming months and are the focus of intense analysis. Already the state has been designated to receive a 10th seat in Congress as a result of its growth. The first release of 2010 Census data pegged Washington’s population at 6,724,540, an increase of 14.1 percent in 10 years.

The data released Wednesday show the county’s racial complexion is slightly more diverse than in 1990, but still 85.4 percent white. The county’s Hispanic population jumped from 16,248 (4.7 percent of the total population) to 32,166 people (7.6 percent).

“Certainly I’ve seen the growth in my community here,” said the Rev. Armando Perez, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church north of Vancouver. About 900 people attend the church’s Spanish-language Mass each Sunday.

Wednesday’s numbers also show that Vancouver held its spot as Washington’s fourth largest city. The city grew by 18,231, or 13 percent, to 161,791 residents.

Smaller cities saw a much more rapid rate of growth, although none approached that number of new residents. Camas added 6,821 residents, or 54.4 percent, to reach a population of 19,355. Washougal now has 14,095 residents, up 5,500 or 64 percent.

The north county cities of Battle Ground and Ridgefield proved to be hot spots.

Battle Ground, Clark County’s second largest city, grew by 8,275 residents, or 89 percent, in the past decade.

Newcomers flocked to Battle Ground after the city solved sewer- and water-capacity problems that shut down construction in the late 1990s. Battle Ground Mayor Mike Ciraulo said Battle Ground is affordable, in a fantastic location and offers all of the amenities of a big city without losing its small-town charm.

“I think that’s why a lot of people choose Battle Ground,” Ciraulo said. “We’ve done a good job in the last decade, and we have the challenge to continue that.”

While the city’s growth has slowed from the breakneck pace of a few years ago, Ciraulo said growth has continued in Battle Ground and shows no signs of stopping.

The city is projecting modest growth for the next couple of years, and officials expect it to pick up significantly to a more robust rate in three to five years, Ciraulo said.

Ridgefield, too, is preparing for continued growth after a brief slowdown due to the economic recession. In the past decade, the population grew by 120 percent, or 2,616 residents.

In the 1990s, Ridgefield expanded its boundaries east to the Interstate 5 corridor, but the land sat undeveloped until 2004 when residential growth crept north from Vancouver, said Justin Clary, Ridgefield’s city manager. The population continued to increase through 2007, when the economic woes that slowed growth in the rest of the county did the same in Ridgefield.

“We’re planning to stay ahead of the curve,” Clary said. “The recession has been a double-edged sword. It impacted the city’s finances, but it also gave us breathing room.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Stuart.

“The slowdown gives us an opportunity to take a look at where we’re at and where we’re headed,” Stuart said. “I don’t think we’re going to see the same level of growth that we’ve had in the past 20 years in the next 20 years. Numerically and practically, I don’t think it will happen.”

Marissa Harshman of The Columbian contributed to this story.

Columbian data analyst John Hill contributed to this project.