SHERIDAN — Sheridan County’s population grew by about 1.1 percent between July 2011 and July 2012, according to estimates released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Local growth was slightly slower than the statewide average of 1.6 percent during that same period. Wyoming’s growth rate, meanwhile, ranked fourth fastest in the nation — coming in behind only North Dakota, Washington, D.C., and Texas.
During the period studied, Wyoming’s population grew by a total of 9,056 people. The estimated net migration, after accounting for natural change — including 7,426 births and 4,426 deaths — indicated that about 6,000 more people moved into Wyoming than left during the year.
Economists said migration is driven mostly by changes in employment, meaning people tend to move to areas where jobs are available. The recession of 2009 caused the slow population growth in 2010 and 2011 for Wyoming, but the state’s energy driven economy recovered well, and performed robustly during the second half of 2011 and the first six months of 2012. The annual employment growth rates of over 2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 and the first six months of 2012 were the fastest since the fourth quarter of 2008.
Still, officials at the state economic analysis division warn the situation may have changed since last summer.
“Today’s situation is probably different from then,” senior economist Wenlin Liu said. “Our migration (into the state) is not as strong.”
Liu said weaker energy markets have made for slow recent population growth in most areas of the state.
The one exception — Natrona County — looks to continue boasting a relatively booming population thanks in large part to Niobrara Shale extraction activity.
“Right now, Wyoming’s economic hotspot is Casper,” Liu said.
Liu said that while the recent statewide trends may not be as positive as the figures outlined in this week’s report, several factors including an increased demand for natural gas and a stabilization of coal prices bode well for the state’s future growth.