- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

RICHMOND — Virginia’s population has grown 8 percent since 2000, with the concentration of people living in metropolitan areas in Northern Virginia and moving away from rural regions and older central cities, according to a University of Virginia research center.

The state’s population in 2006 was 7.6 million, up 564,000 since 2000, the university’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service reported last week. The growth is almost equally spread between more people being born than dying and Virginia’s continuing to draw new residents.

“Northern Virginia is the economic engine of the state,” said Michael A. Spar, the center’s research associate. “That’s where the jobs are being created. That’s where people move to.”

Students who stayed in Virginia after attending the state’s colleges and universities and service members stationed at the state’s military bases contributed to the population growth to a smaller degree, Mr. Spar said.

Northern Virginia localities led the state in growth, with Loudoun County adding 100,000 residents — up 59 percent since the 2000 census. Prince William had 32 percent growth, adding 88,400 residents.

Fairfax County, the state’s most populous locality, grew nearly 5 percent since 2000 with 46,800 new residents. Stafford and Spotsylvania counties each grew 30 percent, gaining 28,100 and 27,300, respectively.

Several other Northern Virginia localities showed notably high growth rates: Manassas Park grew 35 percent since 2000. Other fast-growing localities include Culpeper (29 percent), Fluvanna (28 percent), King George (27 percent), Suffolk (25 percent) and James City County (23 percent).

Losing population were 33 localities, primarily older central cities, including Richmond, Roanoke, Petersburg and Portsmouth, and rural localities in Southside and Southwest Virginia. The cities are recording more births than deaths, but people are moving out, perhaps to outlying suburbs, Mr. Spar said.

Richmond’s population fell nearly 3 percent, losing nearly 5,700 people, while Petersburg lost nearly 10 percent. Suburban Powhatan, Goochland and Chesterfield counties grew by 20 percent, 17 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

In Southside and Southwest Virginia, more deaths than births are recorded and more people are leaving than arriving, as high school graduates continue to take off because they can’t find jobs.

“Since it means they’re not staying there, they’re not having their children there,” Mr. Spar said. “It’s a double whammy.”

On the flip side, the burgeoning exurbs are facing the challenges of population growth, taking on more demands on schools, public services and roads, while residents increasingly faced with long commutes hope to preserve their quality of life.

“At some point, the dis-economies of having too many people will outweigh whatever the attraction of the area is,” Mr. Spar said.

The state’s annual growth rate has dropped to 1.2 percent since 2000, compared with a 1.3 percent annual growth rate from 1990 to 2000. Last year, Virginia’s population grew by 78,500, significantly lower than the average of 92,000 in previous years. Mr. Spar estimates annual population growth will remain at about 1.3 percent until 2010.

State officials and many local government agencies use the Cooper Center’s population estimates to make decisions on revenue sharing, funding allocation, planning and budgeting.

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