June 30, 2005

Fastest-growing cities in South, West -Census

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Port St. Lucie, Florida, isAmerica's fastest-growing large city, according to new CensusBureau estimates that showed torrid growth among suburbs in theSouth and West while the biggest cities in the East and Midwestlost population.

Among cities with more than 100,000 residents, Port St.Lucie, the Atlantic coast home of the New York Mets' baseballspring training camp, saw a 12 percent increase in populationbetween July 1, 2003 and July 1, 2004 to 118,396, the CensusBureau said.

Elk Grove, California, 20 years ago a sleepy hamlet southof Sacramento, had the nation's second fastest growth, at 10.6percent, with the top 10 percentage gainers rounded out byNorth Las Vegas, Nevada; Gilbert, Arizona; Cape Coral City,Florida; Moreno Valley, California; Chandler, Arizona; Miramar,Florida; and Rancho Cucamonga and Roseville, California.

New York City remained the nation's largest city, but lost5,547 residents during the year, with 8,104,079 people on July1, 2004. Los Angeles gained 26,128 people to 3,834,541, whileChicago lost 13,341 residents to 2,862,244.

Detroit dropped out of the top 10, surrendering its placeto San Jose, California,

"To some extent we are seeing a repeat of what we saw inthe mid-1980s, which was a migration out of the old rust-beltstates into the sun belt," said Mark Vitner, senior economistwith Wachovia Bank in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He attributed the shift not to retirees moving to warmerclimates, but skilled workers in their prime working yearsfollowing better job prospects.

"The growth is taking place in the southern United States,where there is less unionization and businesses are freer tomake the changes they need to compete," Vitner said.

A key illustration of this trend is the rise offoreign-owned auto production in the southern states ofTennessee, Mississippi and Alabama and the industry's declinein traditional union states such as Michigan and Ohio.

Phoenix registered the largest numerical population growthamong large cities in the year to July 1, 2004, gaining 29,826people, or 2.1 percent, to 1,418,041. Los Angeles was second,followed by San Antonio, Texas, which gained 22,095 people to1,236,249 and Las Vegas, gaining 17,923 to 534,847.