Northwest Oregon Population – Cities and CountiesFebruary 21, 2023
The population of northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties) increased by 1,343 over the year to an estimated 269,679 in 2022. The average growth rate since 2020 has been 0.5% per year, much slower than the 1.2% annual growth during the 1990s and even slower than rates of the 2000s and 2010s. Growth in the region has slipped back to about what it was in 2013 and 2014 when the region was recovering from the Great Recession. 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 during the housing boom. It slowed as immigration slowed during the recession and early recovery. In 2014 population growth jumped by 1,900, and growth was more than that every year until 2021. Even though there was a pandemic recession in 2020, the official population estimate showed a massive increase of 5,835 for that one year – almost certainly due largely to the 2020 Census. In reality, the population estimates had been too low from 2010 to 2020 and the adjustments to correct them were recorded in the Census year.
All five counties in northwest Oregon have been growing over the long run and are expected to continue doing so.
Benton County (the Corvallis metropolitan area) provided 35% of the area’s total population and 39% of the growth in 2022. The county’s resident population increased by 519 in 2022 after falling by 240 in 2021.
Columbia County was adding people at a good clip before the pandemic, but growth has fallen sharply since then. The county’s population fell by 2 in 2020 – probably due to previous over-estimates being corrected by the 2020 Census. The county added only 232 residents in 2021 and 176 residents in 2022. Columbia’s population growth is fueled by 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.
Clatsop County has had the fastest growth rate (+1.0%) since 2020 of the counties in Northwest Oregon, and it also has added the largest number (+834) of people since 2020, beating even Benton County. The county added 289 residents in 2022. The county also got a big bump (+1,807) in population in 2020 – again, probably in part from the 2020 Census. The county’s population is older on average than Columbia and Benton counties and it relies more on migration for population growth.
Lincoln County also relies heavily on migration for population growth. The county added 222 residents in 2022, which was pretty similar to its growth from 2013 through 2018. The county’s population has grown an average of 0.7% per year since 2020. Lincoln County also got a big boost (+2,127) to its estimated population in the 2020 Census year. The county attracts retirees: high national housing prices, a pandemic, and remote work probably nudge 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 even 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 138 in 2022. The county has had the second-fastest rate of growth (+0.8%) of the five counties since 2020. Tillamook County also had a large increase (+2,187) in its population in the 2020 Census year. Tillamook County tends to have a pretty resilient economy that weathers recessions well, probably due in part to its large food manufacturing industry.
Corvallis is by far the largest city in the five-county area, and the only complete metropolitan area. The pandemic has curtailed growth in Corvallis: the city lost 488 residents from the 2020 Census to July 2022. This is probably due in part to changes in in-person attendance at Oregon State University. 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. North Albany had 9,322 residents in 2021, an increase of 1,022 since 2020. North Albany is usually the fastest growing part of Benton County, but Adair Village has grown the fastest so far since the 2020 Census. Complete population estimates for 2022 aren’t yet available for North Albany and unincorporated areas, so population estimates from 2021 that the author estimates are used for these areas.
For many years Clatsop County’s fastest growing city has been Warrenton, which is on the coast and has land for development. But Warrenton added only 144 residents from 2020 to 2022. Gearhart has surpassed Warrenton and grew at an average rate of 3.5% per year from the 2020 Census to 2022. Gearhart added 128 residents over the period. Astoria has been hampered by a shortage of buildable land, and the city added only 75 residents from 2020 to 2022. More than one-third of this county’s population resides in unincorporated areas, and unincorporated areas accounted for 42% of the county’s growth from 2020 to 2022. Clatsop County’s major population centers are along the coast and the Columbia River.
Most of Columbia County’s population increase in the past decade 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 typically account for much of the growth in the county, but that has not been the case since 2020. Unincorporated Columbia County had an estimated loss (-111) of population from the 2020 Census until 2022. About 43% of the county’s population resides in unincorporated areas. Almost all the growth in the county from 2020 to 2022 occurred in St. Helens, which added 554 residents.
Most of Lincoln County’s population also lives along the coast. Siletz is the only truly interior city, and it added 17 residents from 2020 to 2022. The two biggest cities, Newport and Lincoln City, added 499 residents and 319 residents respectively during the two years. Unincorporated areas in the county often add the most residents, but from the 2020 Census to 2022 unincorporated Lincoln County lost an estimated 463 residents.
Tillamook County has the smallest population of the five counties in northwest Oregon and its cities are also smaller. About 62% of the county’s population lives in unincorporated areas, but unincorporated Tillamook County added 119 residents from 2020 to 2022. The principal city of Tillamook added 120 residents over the two years. Bay City added 150 residents and also had the fastest growth rate in the county – 5.3% per year on average from 2020 to 2022.