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Gainesville one of nations fastest-growing areas
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Gainesville and two other cities are tied for third among the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S. between 2007-08, according to Census Bureau estimates released today.

The July 2008 population figures show growth slowing across the country even before last fall’s financial meltdown.

The top-ranked metropolitan statistic area in percentage of population gain was Raleigh-Cary, N.C., with a 4.3 percent increase.

Gainesville, Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, Wash., and Palm Coast, Fla., are in a three-way tie for third place in the country with a 3.5 percent increase in population from July 2007 to July 2008.

Austin-Round Rock, Texas, was the second fastest-growing metro area in the U.S. with a 3.8 percent increase.

The population of the Gainesville metro area, which includes all of Hall County, was 184,814 on July 1, according to census estimates. That’s an increase of 6,194 people from the previous year. The area’s population in 2000, when the last census was conducted, was 139,315, meaning Hall County’s population has increased 32.7 percent in eight years.

Though the census is only conducted every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates population on July 1 each year. The next census is due in 2010.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, was surprised Wednesday to learn of the increase in Gainesville’s population.

“I’m a little surprised that it is that high, I thought we would be stagnant or flat,” Rogers said. “It would be interesting to find out where the growth is taking place.”

Census data also tracked the fastest-growing counties in the country last year; 94 of the top 100 were in either the South or the West. The remaining six were in the Midwest.

Several Georgia counties were among the top 100 fastest-growing counties. Forsyth County ranked No. 7 in the nation with a 6.3 percent increase in population. Barrow County, with a 4.7 percent increase, ranked No. 22, while neighboring Jackson County ranked No. 31 with a 4.3 percent increase.

The fastest-growing county was St. Bernard Parish in the New Orleans metro area, which recorded a 12.8 percent increase in population. Neighboring Orleans Parish was the county’s third fastest-growing county, with an 8.2 percent increase.

While still growing, growth in Gainesville’s metro area has slowed a bit from the 4.5 percent increase in population from 2006-07, which ranked the area at No. 4 in the country. Gainesville’s not alone in recording a slower rate of growth in the past year.

Census data released today highlight a U.S. population somewhat locked in place by the severe housing downturn and economic recession, even before the impact of rippling job layoffs after last September’s financial meltdown.

The population figures as of July 2008 show growth slowdowns in once-booming metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa, due mostly to a rapid clip of mortgage foreclosures as well as frozen lines of credit that made it harder for out-of-staters to move in.

As a result, rust-belt metro areas such as Buffalo, N.Y., Pittsburgh and Cleveland stanched some population losses, and Boston, Los Angeles and New York saw gains. Well-to-do exurbs around Washington, D.C., saw growth declines as people weary of costly commutes moved closer to federal jobs in the nation’s capital.

“It’s the bursting of a ‘migration bubble,”’ said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution think tank who analyzed the numbers. “Places that popped up in migration growth in the superheated housing markets earlier in the decade are now just as quickly losing their steam.”

“It’s the constraint of not being able to buy or sell a home that is keeping people from moving long distances,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.