More than 2 million make Clark County home

It might have taken five extra years, but it’s finally official: Clark County is home to more than 2 million people.

After several years of stagnant population growth, the nation’s 14th-largest county eclipsed the milestone in July, thanks to an influx of new residents not seen in years, according to new census figures released today .

The county seemed well on its way to the 2 million mark in 2007 amid a population boom that was adding 65,000 people a year. But that was before the housing bubble burst and the local economy crashed.

In the ensuing years, population growth sputtered, with the economy. Between 2008 and 2010, the county added only 50,000 residents, mostly because births outnumbered deaths, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of new residents moving here bottomed out in 2011, when the county gained just 745 people through migration, the figures show.

But that suddenly rebounded last year when the county gained more than 19,000 new residents through migration, a number not seen since 2008.

For Jeremy Aguero of Las Vegas-based research firm Applied Analysis, the census numbers back up what he has seen in all of the data he has been crunching.

The economy is picking up, housing is affordable, and people are moving here to take advantage, Aguero said.

“It’s certainly good news that people are choosing to vote with their feet,” he said.

Some industries, such as construction, are still struggling, but others, including health care and technology, are growing and attracting skilled workers from out of state, Aguero said.

And it helps that businesses, workers and retirees from Nevada’s western neighbor are looking for new homes, he said.

“No matter what we do, California seems to do something worse,” Aguero said.

Despite the Census Bureau’s figures, some local experts believe Clark County surpassed 2 million residents years ago.

County demographer John Wardlaw believes it hit the mark in 2007, and several other times since, before it dipped back below 2 million.

He uses a different method for estimating population than the Census Bureau, which he and others think overestimated vacancy rates because they counted time-share condos as full-time homes during the 2010 census.

That led to lower population estimates, Wardlaw said. He admitted that everyone is estimating, however, so “we may or may not have hit it.”

In the grand scheme of things, Aguero said, the 2 million milestone is a “talking point” but isn’t all that noteworthy.

What is important is how the numbers show Southern Nevada is bouncing back from the economic doldrums of years past, he said.

Clark County isn’t the only Nevada locale to stand out in the new census numbers.

Elko, in the northeastern corner of the state, landed fifth on the national list of “micro areas” with the largest population gains. A micro area has about 50,000 residents.

Elko gained 1,787 new people in 2012, pushing its population above 53,000. The population growth comes amid the region’s booming gold mining industry.

Aguero said Elko is struggling with the growth spurt, and the community is wary of building the roads, housing and other infrastructure to handle the rising population because of mining’s up-and-down history.

“People have long memories,” Aguero said. “It is very much boom and bust.”

That means workers living in hotels or trailers are reluctant to bring their families and establish roots for the long haul, however, so that population growth might not last when gold prices fall, he said.

That isn’t the case around Las Vegas, he said.

The region continued to add roads, schools and other infrastructure even after its boom went bust, which kept it in position to handle the coming growth as the economy picks up.

Even with many positive signs, Aguero is wary of saying Southern Nevada’s economy has turned around, though it has “put some distance from the bottom.”

Contact reporter Brian Haynes at bhaynes@review or 702-383-0281.

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