Northwest Oregon Population – Cities and Counties

by Erik Knoder

January 10, 2018

The population of northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties) increased by 2,880 to an estimated 256,875 in 2017. The average annualized growth rate since 2010 has been nearly 0.8 percent, much slower than the 1.5 annual percentage growth during the 1990s and similar to the rate of the recession-plagued 2000s. On the other hand, growth has been increasing every year since 2010. Population growth seems tied to economic performance in the region. The region grew by 2,000 or more people each year from 2005 through 2007. It slowed as immigration slowed during the recession and early recovery. In 2014, the population increased by 1,900 and has increased more than 2,000 per year since.
All five counties in northwest Oregon have been growing over the long run and are expected to continue doing so.

Benton County (aka the Corvallis Metropolitan Area) provided 36 percent of the area’s total population and 44 percent of the growth in 2017. Benton County has been adding jobs, partly because its sizeable health care industry expanded. The county’s resident population increased by 1,255 in 2017.

Despite being hit hard by the recession, Columbia County has been adding people. Columbia’s population growth is fueled by its higher birth rate and its proximity to the rest of the Portland metropolitan area. Housing in the county is typically much less expensive than in adjoining Washington County, which is attractive to commuters. The county’s population grew by 550 in 2017.

Clatsop County has had the fastest growth of the non-metro counties in Northwest Oregon. The county added 595 residents in 2017. The county has had an average growth rate of 0.7 percent since 2010, second only to Benton County. The county’s population is older on average than Columbia County and relies more on migration for population growth.

Lincoln County also relies heavily on migration for population growth. The county added 225 residents in 2017, fewer than it did in 2016, but the county has grown moderately since the recession. The county attracts retirees, and the recovery of the stock market and national housing prices have probably helped people who want to retire to Oregon’s beautiful coast.

Tillamook County’s population is distinctly older than the other counties. Deaths often outnumber births and the county relies on migration for growth. The county’s population increased by 255 in 2017. This number has been increasing steadily for the past few years. The county has had the slowest rate of growth of the five counties in the period from 2010 to 2017.


Corvallis is by far the largest city in the five-county area, and the only metropolitan area. It also accounts for nearly two-thirds of the growth in Benton County. The next largest “city” in Benton County isn’t a city itself; it’s an area commonly called North Albany and is part of the city of Albany, which lies mostly in Linn County. Preliminary population estimates for 2017 aren’t yet available for North Albany so it is included in the Other category, but the area has about 7,600 residents, and is adding around 400 people per year.
Clatsop County’s fastest growing cities have been Seaside and Warrenton, which are on the coast and have land for development. Astoria has been hampered by a shortage of buildable land, but had a growth spurt and caught up with Seaside’s growth rate. About one-third of this county’s population resides in unincorporated areas. Clatsop County’s major population centers are along the coast and the Columbia River.

Most of Columbia’s recent population increase has been concentrated in the southern portion, such as Scappoose and St. Helens, where commuting distances to the core Portland job market are shorter, and in unincorporated parts of the county.  About 46 percent of the county’s population resides in unincorporated areas. Most of Columbia County’s population is on the flat bottomlands next to the Columbia River. The only major interior community is Vernonia, located in the southwest portion of the county. Vernonia has experienced a drop in population since 2010, probably due to a large flood the town experienced.

Most of Lincoln County’s population also lives along the coast. Siletz is the only truly interior city. Although Lincoln City has grown since 2010, the published figure includes about 360 residents added
by an annexation. The two biggest cities, Newport and Lincoln City, and unincorporated areas are adding the most residents.

Tillamook County has the smallest population of the five counties in northwest Oregon and its cities are also smaller. About 63 percent of the county’s population lives in unincorporated areas. The city of Tillamook has gained only 10 people since 2010. Almost all the growth has occurred in unincorporated areas.

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