SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's population has grown more rapidly than any other state in the aftermath of the economic recession, show new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The recipe for growth in the Beehive State is unique, and young, growing families are the main ingredient, according to the numbers released Wednesday. In the last year, Utah had the highest rate of natural increase nationwide, a measure that considers new births versus deaths.
Thanaa Metwally's family in Murray is among those powering the expansion. Originally from Egypt, Metwally prefers Utah for its snow-capped mountains and the friendliness of its residents. She married a lifelong Utahn and moved to the state roughly 10 years ago, feeling relieved to find it was not the America she had seen on television, teeming with skyscrapers and crowds.
"I'd like to stay here. It's kind of quiet," she said Wednesday in Salt Lake City as her three daughters, Noor and Nada, 8-year-old twins, and Amira, age 4, played nearby.
Metwally fits another trend in Utah's growth. Those from other states and from abroad have also driven up the population count, contributing more than 113,000 newcomers since 2010.
The influx is in part due to a strong job market, said Pamela Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. In the Beehive State, unemployment is at 3.2 percent, compared to the national 3.7 percent. Utah also has drawn foreigners to faculty positions at its colleges, welcomed refugees, and has raised its profile as its becomes more urban and forges global connections, Perlich said.
Overall, the roughly 400,000 new faces in the Beehive State since 2010 amount to an increase of 14.4 percent, more than twice the national rate of 6 percent, according to the census estimates.
"That is consistent with what we've experienced here, which is an economy that's growing, if not the fastest, among the very fastest in the nation," Perlich said. She calls the new figures "demographic confirmation of the economic data."
But for some, economics are hardly the reason to call Utah home.
Jessica Palmer, of South Jordan, says no raise will mean as much as being close to loved ones.
"Family drives a huge part of it," Palmer said Wednesday of the decision she and her husband made to buy a house near her childhood home in Riverton.
Her mom still lives there, and she often reminds her two sisters, who have moved to Toronto and northern California, of how nice it could be if they returned home to Utah and took turns babysitting each other's young kids. Her own daughters, Emersyn, 5, and Jemma, 20 months, are among the new crop of nearly 285,000 homegrown Utahns this decade.
Palmer, a realtor, has observed subdivisions spring up across what once were vast stretches of farmland near her home. A growing number of potential buyers have hailed from other states like California and Montana.
"I've seen the south end of the valley transform," she said.
The change in Utah is part of longtime expansion across the Intermountain West, notes Perlich. Neighboring Nevada and Idaho are also home to surging populations, mostly due to newcomers moving from other states, according to the census figures.
The figures released Wednesday come on the heels of different projections that point to tapering expansion in Utah. More outsiders moved in and families continued welcome newborns in the last year, other census and state data revealed, but not at the same pace as in the past.
At about 3.2 million, Utah's population remains relatively small. Texas, for its part, has swelled by more people than that since 2010, ranking just behind Utah for its rate of growth. The Lone Star State now is home to more than 28 million.
Ahead of both Utah and Texas, the District of Columbia claimed the highest growth rate, at 16 percent, raising its population to about 700,000.
Perlich acknowledges that some Utahns fear another recession is on its way, but said she doesn't see anything foreboding in the new census estimates or the similar figures she and her colleagues on the Utah Population Committee have calculated.
"We see continued strong, but sustainable, growth," Perlich said. "We're not just dependent on high fertility rates for our growth anymore. People are moving here for opportunity. And that's a vote of confidence for the continued growth of our state."
In Murray, Metwally and her husband had considered moving to Reno, Nevada, for his job drafting digital models of buildings for architects and engineers. But they agreed to remain in the Salt Lake Valley, where their older daughters love learning in Chinese as part of a dual immersion program at school and where Metwally is pursuing a degree in interior design from Salt Lake Community College.
"He had a big offer. I still prefer to stay here," Metwally said. "When I like something, I need to keep it."