If you’re wondering where Arizona is putting all of its new residents, look to the far suburbs.
New figures from the state’s Office of Economic Opportunity find the biggest bumps in population were in places like Queen Creek, Buckeye, Florence and Sahuarita.
Gilbert saw its population grow by 2.7 percent between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, – putting it third in population increases behind Queen Creek and Tempe.
But there may be less to some of those numbers than it seems in the case of Queen Creek.
On paper, the town that covers portions of two counties grew by more than 9,000 residents between July 1, 2017, and a year later. That’s enough to compute out to an astounding 22.5 percent year-over-year growth.
Jim Chang, the state demographer, pointed out that virtually all of the growth on the Pinal County side came from the community annexing already existing development. If you subtract out those instantly acquired 5,277 residents, you’re actually back in the 9.4 percent range – still the highest in the state but not quite as eye popping.
That’s also part of the reason for the 5.3 percent annual growth rate logged by Sahuarita.
Nearly half of the 1,526 new residents were already living where they are now. It’s just that now they’re within the town instead of the unincorporated area of Pima County.
Even Tucson took advantage of the idea of annexing existing developments, Chang said, picking up 3,960 instant Tucsonans along with another 1,911 due to natural growth.
The numbers and the growth rates are more than just bragging rights.
Population figures are used to divide up some forms of state aid. And while that is computed using the official decennial Census figures, these annual estimates by the state provide some indication of where the growth is and who will be winners and losers.
It’s not just fiscal power that comes with new residents – so does political power.
Arizona is divided into 30 legislative districts, each of which is supposed to have roughly equal population.
If some areas of the state grow faster than others, the lines have to be redrawn. And areas that don’t keep pace with the average will find that they have to share their state senator and two representatives with an ever-larger geographic area.
At the current pace, look for more lawmakers after the 2021 redistricting from Maricopa and Pinal counties, meaning fewer from elsewhere.
Those population figures also are used to determine congressional districts.
But how those lines are drawn will be dependent on how Arizona’s population growth overall compares with the rest of the nation as membership in the U.S. House of Representatives is fixed at 435.
The state picked up a ninth congressional seat after the 2010 Census. It likely will get one more after the end of the decade – and possibly two.
Aside from Queen Creek, Buckeye recorded the second highest percentage growth. Located on the far west side of the Phoenix area it has annexed large swaths of vacant land that are suitable for development.
As those working in the Phoenix area look farther out for affordable housing, that is boosting some other communities.