WASHINGTON — The Oklahoma City metropolitan area continued its growth spurt between 2011 and 2012 and neared 1.3 million in population by last July, according to new Census Bureau estimates that also show major gains in some western Oklahoma areas.
The Oklahoma City area grew by 20,744 people between July 2011 and July 2012, a rate of 1.6 percent, the 12th largest for metro areas with more than 1 million in population. The area has grown by 3.5 percent since April 2010, adding 43,573 residents, according to the estimates, and had a population of 1,296,565 in July 2012.
The Oklahoma City area's growth rate was twice that of the state's rate of 0.8 percent, and four of the fastest-growing counties in the state — Canadian, Cleveland, McClain and Oklahoma — were in the Oklahoma City metro area, said Eric Long, research economist for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
Long said the area, post-recession, has seen strength in a number of sectors — retail and trade, administrative services, real estate, manufacturing, and oil and gas — and population growth has followed. Job growth is still running at 2 to 3 percent, he said.
The Tulsa metropolitan area's growth rate of 0.7 percent was just below the statewide rate; the area added about 6,500 residents between July 2011 and July 2012.
‘Hustling and bustling'
The latest population estimates include “micropolitan” areas that contain an urban cluster of between 10,000 and 49,999 people, and three such areas in Oklahoma ranked in the top 20 nationally in the rate of growth. The three — Elk City, Weatherford and Woodward — are all in the western part of the state.
Cody Bannister, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said oil and gas activity is driving the growth, with Elk City and Weatherford helping to form the “launching pad” for the Granite Wash Play stretching across western Oklahoma into the Texas Panhandle.
The Woodward area, Bannister said, may be benefiting from the Granite Wash Play along with renewed interest in the Mississippi Lime, stretching from northern Oklahoma into Kansas.
Elk City Mayor Teresa Mullican said the city is “hustling and bustling.”
She attributed a majority of the growth in the past couple of years to energy exploration and said it has spurred housing construction. The Elk City micropolitan area grew by 3.5 percent between July 2011 and July 2012, the seventh highest rate for such areas in the country. It gained 784 people, for a population of 23,081.
Elk City was an oil boom town before, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Mullican said the city learned lessons from that period and the bust that followed.
“We're more guarded this time going in,” she said. “We're trying to stay in front of the situations that arise because of the influx.”
The oil- and gas-related growth in western Oklahoma is part of a national trend, according to the Census Bureau. The fastest growing metro area in the country between July 2011 and July 2012 was Midland, Texas, with 4.6 percent growth, and many cities in the Great Plains had high rates of growth after a long period of out-migration.
“There are probably many factors fueling this growth on the prairie, but no doubt the energy boom is playing a role,” said Census Bureau senior adviser Thomas Mesenbourg.
“For instance, the Permian Basin, located primarily in West Texas, and North Dakota accounted for almost half of the total U.S. growth in firms that mine or extract oil and gas, during a recent one-year period.”
Some areas see drop
Not all areas of Oklahoma are growing. Some micropolitan areas in the state had population losses between July 2011 and July 2012, with the McAlester area experiencing the largest drop, at 1.3 percent.
McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison said the decrease is attributable mostly to a decline in gas drilling and a drop in the peak employment at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant because of defense cuts and the winding down of two wars.