Population increases

Both Ridgefield and La Center had a fast-growing past year as both cities were among the top-five fastest-growing proportionally of all municipalities in Washington, the Office of Financial Management (OFM) estimates.

OFM released its estimates for April 1, 2020, late last month, looking at population growth of Washington cities since the prior April. Though it wasn’t the fastest-growing city by percentage of population like it was last year, Ridgefield was still fourth among all cities, increasing in residents by 9.84 percent from April 2019 to April 2020.

Right behind Ridgefield was La Center, which saw an estimated boom in population to the tune of 8.81 percent more residents over that same period. For the past several years that growth had only been between 1 and 4 percent, according to OFM data.

Though not as dramatic as the 15.44 percent growth between April 2018 and April 2019, growth in Ridgefield is by no means stopping as the city was estimated to have a total population of 9,770 as of April 1.

Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart said that the city expected to see it among the fastest-growing Washington cities again. Though he said that the city has planned for the level of growth it has seen for several years, he explained that the rates of growth in specific years was in part tied with market forces for developers adding housing to Ridgefield.

“We don’t control whether we grow, we control how we grow. We also don’t control when we grow, because the market determines that,” Stuart said. 

“We look at 20-year and six-year timelines. The annual rates of growth, they ebb, they flow based on market conditions.”

Stuart pointed to a number of factors for Ridgefield’s continued growth, from proximity to the Portland metropolitan area, to land availability and quality of life in the city.

Even with disruptions of industries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stuart didn’t believe those impacts would have a drastic effect on what growth in the city would look like for OFM’s 2021 estimates. 

“There was a short-term dip in (development) activity, but that was short-lived,” Stuart said. 

For the other component of growth — individuals making the move to Ridgefield once houses are up — Stuart said there were competing factors at hand. On one side employment uncertainties may have caused reluctance to make a move, but record-low interest rates could incentivize relocating to the city even under the shadow of COVID-19.

“From what I have seen and heard, at least in our city, is that homes are still selling and businesses are still coming,” Stuart said.

On the other side of Interstate 5, La Center saw a spike in growth according to OFM estimates, adding 300 residents between 2019 and 2020 for a total population of 3,705. As to where the growth is happening, La Center Public Works Manager Matt Jenkins wrote in an email that most of the residential permits were in the Heritage Country Estates neighborhood on the east side of the city for the time period covered in OFM’s report.

Jenkins wrote that this year the city was anticipating a total of 180 housing permits, including 144 multifamily residences. He pointed to a number of projects moving forward that would play into future significant growth, including more than 300 units at Riverside Estates on the west side of town, both single and multi-family.

From an infrastructure perspective Jenkins wrote that the city would be able to handle the continued growth it is anticipating, noting that the city’s wastewater treatment plant had the needed capacity. Through the construction of a new middle school, the city and the La Center School District have partnered in expanding sewer utility that would serve both that building and 125 single-family residences in the future.

The city is also physically expanding as Jenkins wrote that the city had processed four annexations between 2019 and 2020, for 70 more acres in the city. OFM’s statistics showed that the land expansions didn’t result in an immediate population bump, as only six more residents were added to the city due to annexation.

Outside of just North County cities, Clark County as a whole saw significant growth in OFM’s latest numbers. The April 1 estimate showed the county added 10,700 more residents from 2019 to 2020, or a 2.19 percent increase. Clark added the fourth-most residents to its population among Washington counties, and Vancouver had the second-most numerical population increase of municipalities in the state with 4,400, increasing its population to 189,700. Vancouver had a lower rate of proportional increase, however, with only 2.37 percent.

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