Population Changes in Southwest Oregon Counties and CitiesJanuary 31, 2017 “Oregon or bust!” is an expression long associated with the opening of The Oregon Trail in 1841. Today, Oregon continues to capture the national spotlight as a favorite destination. In fact, in the last couple of years the state has garnered either first or second place for in-bound commercial and self-moves. Although not all population growth can be attributed to new people moving into our corner of the world, it does contribute to the dynamic mix of our communities.
Portland State University’s Population Research Center provides population data, information, research, and analysis for the state and its communities. The preliminary 2016 data offer a rich resource for studying the dynamics of people, their movement, and some of their characteristics. For example, between 2006 (pre-recession) and 2016, the state’s population expanded by 385,845 people (10.5%). That provides a noticeable increase in the demand for goods and services, often straining the community resources of smaller communities not prepared for a boost in population.
Population changes, particularly in rural Oregon, reflect underlying economic conditions. In spite of the robust 10.5 percent population growth from 2006 to 2016, the first five years showed a slower growth rate than subsequent years (4.5% as compared with 5.7% between 2011-2016). Southwestern Oregon’s counties show a different picture.
Curry and Douglas Counties Show Similarities
Curry and Douglas counties’ 10-year growth rates were about half of the state’s rate (5.8% and 6.3%, respectively). However, their greatest growth appeared during the first five years with noticeably slower growth between 2011 and 2016. On the other hand, Coos County’s overall 10-year population change has been much slower at 0.5 percent. And, unlike its neighboring counties, Coos population change was greater between 2011 and 2016 (0.4%) than the early years of the period (0.1%).
Another difference between the state’s general population trends and that of rural, southwestern Oregon is the prevalence of those living outside city limits. Unlike the state where just over 30 percent of residents live in unincorporated areas, Coos, Curry, and Douglas counties see more of their residents living out of town (40%, 56%, and 54%, respectively). County and community population changes over the past decade speak to the uniqueness within our region.
Coos County Population Shows Little Overall Change
Although Coos County has seen very little change in overall population (285 additional people, 0.5% increase), the small towns tell different stories. Coquille, the county seat, lost 290 residents between 2006 and 2016, a 6.9 percent decrease – most notably during those first five years of the period (-8.2% between 2006-2011). Remotely located Powers, the smallest Coos County community, lost 35 residents – a 4.8 percent loss, again most pronounced from 2006 to 2011. Small Lakeside gained 285 residents during this period, with 17.7 percent growth from 2006 to 2011 followed by another 1.8 percent gain from 2011 to 2016.
The closely connected, ocean-shore cities of North Bend and Coos Bay saw quite varied population shifts. Overall, these two cities gained 665 residents. Coos Bay’s population grew from 16,005 in 2006 to 16,615 in 2016 (3.8% growth, all in the final five years of the period). On the other hand, North Bend’s population grew from 9,720 to 9,775 – a change of less than 1 percent.
Curry County Shows Greatest Growth from 2006 to 2011
Curry County gained 1,235 residents between 2006 and 2016 – 5.8 percent population growth. Unlike the state, this was most pronounced in the early years of the period. Most of the growth took place in unincorporated areas of the county.
Among incorporated cities, only the southernmost community of Brookings reported positive population shifts from 2006 to 2016 (235 additional residents; 3.7% overall growth rate – nearly all occurring between 2011-2016). Both Gold Beach and Port Orford reported population losses, with the most substantial losses from 2006 to 2011. Gold Beach lost 170 residents – a 7.8 percent decline between 2006 and 2011 with a slight turnaround in recent years. Port Orford, the smallest of the county’s incorporated towns, lost 85 residents – a 6.9 percent overall decline.
Douglas County Shows Relatively Steady Growth
Douglas County, the largest of the three counties, hugs the I-5 corridor. Overall, Douglas County reported a 6.3 percent population increase (6,580) for this 10-year period. Growth was most pronounced between 2006 and 2011, adding 3.8 percent. Sixty-four percent of new residents reside in unincorporated areas. Roseburg, the largest community, accounted for 27 percent of the county’s population growth (1,770). Small towns gaining population include Canyonville (320, 19.9% increase); nearby Riddle (140, 13.4% increase); and north-county Drain (95, 8.9% growth). These communities had fast population growth from 2006 to 2011.
Communities reporting overall population losses between 2006 and 2016 include southernmost and timber-dependent Glendale (-65; 6.9% decline – all occurring between 2006-2011); Yoncalla (-35; 3.2% decline; 4.1% decline between 2006-2011); and mid-county’s Myrtle Creek (-100; early losses during 2006-2011 with some subsequent positive growth). The community of Elkton had a 4.9 percent drop in population from 2006 to 2011 followed by a 5.1 percent increase in the next five years, for a net population change of zero.
As Oregon’s population has shown relatively steady growth over the past 10 years, Coos, Curry, and Douglas communities have struggled as people have moved in, out, and in again. Demands for goods and services as well as available resources have also shifted with these winds of change.