Size really does matter.
For the second year in a row, Flagler County, Fla., has claimed the crown as the fastest-growing county in the United States, according to estimates released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Its population grew at a blistering clip of 10.7%, leaving in its dust the entire Golden State, whose fastest-growing county (Tuolumne) lumbered in at No. 60 on the list of the 100 fastest growers.
Those Flaglerites no doubt had a lot to talk about Thursday when they gathered at the school board office in Palm Coast for a special growth-management workshop. So what does it take to be the fastest-growing county in America? Adding 7,394 new residents from July 1, 2004, to July 1, 2005.
Where will they put them all?
Maybe the good folks in Riverside County can give them a pointer or two, that is if Flagler County will deign to talk to No. 79 on the list of fast growers.
In that same time period, Riverside County added a whopping 76,954 new residents. That's not just more than 10 times Flagler's numerical growth, it's bigger than the entire population of the Atlantic Coast county between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, which weighed in at an anorexic 76,410.
The problem, demographer Hans Johnson says mildly, is that "we have really big counties" in California. The bigger a county is to begin with, the more residents it has to add to achieve status as a national rapid grower. In fact, for Riverside County to have grown 10.7% from 2004 to 2005, it would have had to add more than 200,000 new people.
And it's stretching to absorb the people who actually did arrive in the last year. The four months from October through January were the busiest in the history of the Riverside County Planning Department, said assistant planning director Ron Goldman. His department alone hopes to add 21 staffers in the coming fiscal year to accommodate new land-use applications.
Flagler County, take note: That's a growth rate of about 25%.
If California counties were a bit more bite-sized, they'd be all over the national fast-growth list. If the Temecula area, for example, was its own county, Johnson posits, it would be faster-growing than Flagler in both percentage and actual numbers.
Just consider: From 2000 to 2004, Flagler County added 19,173 new residents in 485 square miles, according to the Census Bureau. During the same time, Temecula, in western Riverside County, added 24,367 new residents in all of 26 square miles. Now that's growth.
A placating Robert Bernstein, a spokesman for the Census Bureau, acknowledges that, on the list of fastest-growing counties, "the ones close to the top seem to have 100,000 [residents] or so and below. It's a lot easier to generate a high rate when you have a lower base."
Flagler County officials realize that it doesn't take much to rack up flashy statistics. Sure, the county gets the fast-growing crown, "but it's kind of by default," admits Jim Darby, of the county commission. "We appreciate the attention, but we don't really want it. We want to keep the best in life for ourselves. One of the jokes here is, 'If you come to Flagler County, close the door after you arrive.' " Obviously, not everyone's listening.
But another way to look at growth in America -- "And it's quite impressive," Bernstein said -- is to check out the lists of counties that added the greatest number of people in the last year and in the last five. The Census Bureau released those rankings Thursday, too, and California is all over them.
Of the top 10 for sheer numerical growth from July 1, 2004, to July 1, 2005, Riverside County was No. 2 and San Bernardino County was No. 5. For those counties that added the most people from 2000 to 2005, Los Angeles was No. 2 after Arizona's Maricopa County; Riverside, No. 3; San Bernardino, No. 6; Orange, No. 10; and Sacramento, No. 12.
And, for better or worse, Los Angeles won the honors yet again as the biggest county in America. It has held that lofty spot since at least 1960; there is no risk that it will be overtaken anytime soon. With 9.9 million people, it's nearly twice the size of its nearest contender (Cook County, Ill., with 5.3 million) and easily dwarfs the rest of the nation.
"L.A.," says demographer Johnson, "really is mind-boggling."
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California may have some of the largest counties in the U.S., but not necessarily the fastest-growing when it comes to percentage increase. Here are the fastest growing from 2004 to 2005:
Largest percentage change, 2004 to 2005
*--* Numerical Percentage 2005 County increase increase population Flagler, Fla. 7,394 10.7% 76,410 Lyon, Nev. 4,179 9.6 47,515 Kendall, Ill. 6,810 9.4 79,514 Rockwall, Texas 4,522 7.7 62,944 Washington, Utah 8,460 7.7 118,885
Largest numerical increase, 2004 to 2005
*--* Numerical Percentage 2005 County increase increase population Maricopa, Ariz. 136,941 3.9% 3,635,528 Riverside 76,954 4.1 1,946,419 Clark, Nev. 62,027 3.8 1,710,551 Harris, Texas 51,936 1.4 3,693,050 San Bernardino 47,117 2.5 1,963,535
Source: U.S. Census Bureau