- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - New census numbers indicate that the epicenter of Utah’s population growth is shifting from the state’s capital to the booming Utah County just to the south, where tech jobs are helping to draw new residents.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Utah County and Salt Lake County are merging into one metropolitan area. Between 2014 and 2015, the Salt Lake and Utah counties each added about the same number of new residents - 14,426 in Salt Lake and 13,671 in Utah - despite Salt Lake being more than twice the size.

In addition, more of Salt Lake County’s growth was from natural increases, or the difference between births and deaths. More than 83 percent of the county’s growth last year was natural, compared with 72 percent in Utah County. Migration from outside the county accounted for 18 percent of new Utah County residents, whereas Salt Lake County had a net loss in domestic migration of 985 people.

Data shows Salt Lake City’s growth also is concentrated in the southern portion adjacent to Utah County, reinforcing the merger concept.

Provo Mayor John Curtis said people are attracted to the city because of low unemployment rates, high-paying jobs and the affordable quality of life. “The challenge for all of us is how to continue to grow at that pace and still enjoy our quality of life,” he said.

Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, said the growth shows Utah’s growing tech sector is drawing the epicenter of population growth south of Salt Lake City as Utah County attracts more jobs and homes. Housing is becoming scarce in Salt Lake County, which also is sending people south, she said.

“You expect that as counties fill up,” Perlich said. “Not quite yet in Salt Lake County, but we’ll get there at some point. That growth just keeps getting pushed further and further south. The geographic center of the Utah population is south of the Salt Lake County line now.”

New estimates also show that Wasatch and Morgan counties were among the top 20 in the nation for growth. Wasatch County was seventh for counties with populations of at least 10,000, with a growth rate of 4.95 percent. Morgan County was 11th at 4.22 percent. This growth is again part of suburban expansion from urban areas, Perlich said.

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