“It’s positive and negative. It just depends on where you look at and how you look at it and who’s being affected.”
Maricopa County added more new residents than any county in the nation last year, continuing a trend that local officials call a credit to the region’s opportunities and affordability.
The Census Bureau said Thursday that the county added 58,246 people from July 2020 to July 2021, topping Texas’ Collin County and boosting Maricopa County’s estimated county population to just under 4.5 million.
The Phoenix region as a whole saw the second-biggest population increase for the year, with Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler trailing only Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, the bureau said.
“Arizona and Maricopa County have shown high growth over a sustained period of time, it hasn’t been just a quarter here or there,” said Garrick Taylor, a spokesperson for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Census data indicates that the state and Maricopa County region are especially attractive to transplants.”
Most of the population gains last year came from people moving to Arizona: Of the 98,330 new residents in the state, just 832 were attributable to “natural change,” or the difference between births and deaths, according to the Census. The rest were the result of migration, mostly from other states.
Many of the newcomers are crossing the border from California, experts said.
“This place is basically becoming San Francisco—I mean, there’s so many people from California coming here. It’s just, it’s unbelievable,” said Andrew Holm, program manager for Hague Partners-72SOLD.
Sindy Ready, state treasurer for the Arizona Association of Realtors, said she is not surprised by the population increase, given the “beautiful weather” and climate great for people who like the outdoors.
Taylor pointed to the state’s economy, which he said is “not only strong, but has proven to be especially resilient,” recovering jobs “almost faster than any other part of the country” after the pandemic. He also noted plans for high-tech and automotive manufacturing plants that have been unveiled for the Valley.
Another plus for the state are housing costs that Holm said are significantly cheaper than in other major cities. But that comes with a downside—demand for housing is driving prices up.
“It’s positive and negative,” Holm said. “It just depends on where you look at and how you look at it and who’s being affected.”
Ready said that while population growth is a good thing in her business, newcomers are finding there are not enough available houses or rental properties for the number of people moving in.
“Just the battle of being able to get into a property right now, because there’s so many people wanting to be here,” Ready said.
That may be one reason that neighboring Pinal and Yavapai counties both saw surging growth rates in 2021, the experts said.
While they did not add nearly the number of people that Maricopa County did, their rates of growth were considerably higher, according to the Census Bureau. Pinal County’s population jumped 4.6% and Yavapai County’s grew by 2.2% in 2021, compared to Maricopa County’s 1.3% for the year.
“These people are willing to go to these locations because they can get a new house on the outskirts for significantly cheaper,” Holm said. “The problem is that the builders simply cannot keep up with the demand.”
Taylor said advanced manufacturing is “hot” right now and that Pinal county, which has a “proud legacy of being a heavy agricultural area of the state” is now drawing major firms like Nikola Motor Co. and Kohler.
All but four counties—Apache, Coconino, Greenlee and La Paz—saw population increases last year, according to the Census. Driven largely by the gains in Maricopa, the state population overall grew by 98,330 people last year, to just under 7.28 million on July 1.
The Census Bureau in December ranked Arizona as the third-fastest growing state last year, behind Texas and Florida.
The increases can strain everything from the state’s water resources and infrastructure to, as Holm notes, the ability to get a reservation at a good restaurant without weeks of waiting. But all the experts agreed that too much business is a good problem to have.
“It’s rare for people to pull up stakes and uproot their lives, to move somewhere with little opportunity. Instead, they seek out job opportunities and other economic benefits,” Taylor said. “And Arizona can offer that in spades.”