Northwest Oregon Population – Cities and Counties

by Erik Knoder

January 27, 2020

The population of Northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties) increased by 1,905 to an estimated 261,200 in 2019. 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 rate of the 2000s. On the other hand, growth has increased back to pre-recession levels. 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, population growth jumped by 1,900 and has been more than that every year since although it slowed considerably in 2019.
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 40 percent of the growth in 2019. The county’s resident population increased by 770 in 2019.

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 850 in 2019, about 300 more than in 2018. This was also more people than the much larger Benton County added.

Clatsop County has had the fastest growth of the non-metro counties in Northwest Oregon, but growth largely stalled in 2019. The county added only 130 residents in 2019, the smallest gain since 2013. The county has had an average growth rate of 0.7 percent since 2010, slower than Benton County (1.1%) and just slightly slower than Columbia County (0.72%). 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 only 50 residents in 2019, down 80 percent from 2018. The county’s population has grown slowly since the recession, about 0.5 percent per year. 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. Slow job growth, lower wages, and high housing prices limit the county’s ability to attract more migrants.

Tillamook County’s population is nearly as old as Lincoln County’s. Deaths often outnumber births and the county relies on migration for growth. The county’s population increased by 105 in 2019. This was half the growth of the previous year and the least growth since 2014. The county has had the second-slowest rate of growth of the five counties in the period from 2010 to 2018 at only 0.53 percent per year.


Corvallis is by far the largest city in the five-county area, and the only metropolitan area. It also has accounted for half of the growth in Benton County since 2010. 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 2019 aren’t yet available for North Albany so its growth is included in the “other” category for 2019. The area had 7,945 residents in 2018 and has added 1,482 people since 2010. North Albany is also the fastest growing part of Benton County, averaging 2.3 percent per year since 2010.
Clatsop County’s fastest growing city has been Warrenton, which is on the coast and has land for development. Astoria has been hampered by a shortage of buildable land. Astoria has had a growth spurt recently and has had decent total growth but at a slower rate. More than one-third of this county’s population resides in unincorporated areas and unincorporated areas account for two-thirds of the county’s growth since 2010. Clatsop County’s major population centers are along the coast and the Columbia River.

Most of Columbia County’s recent population increase has been concentrated in its 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. Unincorporated areas of Columbia County account for 63 percent of the growth in the county since 2010. 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 in part 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 change includes about 360 residents added by an annexation. The two biggest cities, Newport and Lincoln City, and unincorporated areas are adding the most residents. Unincorporated areas account for about 37 percent of the growth since 2010.

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 principal city of Tillamook has not really gained people since 2010. Almost all the growth (83%) has occurred in unincorporated areas.


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