Salt Lake City has never been bigger, one place grew by nearly 9,000%, and more census surprises

West Jordan passes Provo in population; West Valley City and Kearns become majority-minority; and Salt Lake County adds more people than Utah County.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Construction cranes dominate the Salt Lake City skyline on Thursday, June 24, 2021. Utah's capital is bigger than ever, with a population just shy of 200,000.

In the past 10 years, one Utah city ballooned by nearly 9,000%.

Another emerged as the state’s first large city where the majority of its residents are minorities, mainly because of its burgeoning Hispanic and Latino community. And Salt Lake City grew bigger than it has ever been before, exceeding its previous population peak from the 1960s.

They’re all part of Utah’s surging growth over the past decade, as illuminated by the U.S. census figures released this week. And though the effects of this population spike are felt statewide, the data also documents the way this expansion hits each community differently.

Many of the state’s tiny cities and towns actually shrank further, part of a national wave of migration toward urban centers, while the creation of more than 11,400 homes in Salt Lake City helped propel the biggest city’s population to unprecedented heights.

One thing that stuck out to Yehemy Zavala Orozco, programs director and community health worker for Comunidades Unidas, was the added diversity in many cities. In West Valley City, where the nonprofit is based, growth in the Latino community accounted for the bulk of the 10-year population increase, and whites in the city are now in the minority.

Zavala Orozco, who uses they/them pronouns, said the data just bolsters the demographic shifts that have been obvious to most people over the past decade.

“This represents more what Utah is,” they said.

What are Utah’s 10 largest cities?

Salt Lake City, the capital, retained its crown as Utah’s largest city, adding more than 13,000 residents to reach a population just shy of 200,000, according to the 2020 census. West Valley City again finished second, with 140,230 residents.

In the past 10 years, however, there were some shakeups to the state’s list of 10 biggest cities.

West Jordan (116,961) overtook Provo (115,162) as Utah’s third-largest city, relegating the latter to fourth place. St. George (95,342) and Ogden (87,321) also swapped positions, with the Washington County city ranking as the state’s seventh-biggest and pushing the Weber County city down to eighth place.

South Jordan (77,487), one of the quickest-growing cities, landed in 10th, a spot occupied by Millcreek in 2010.

Others on the list were Orem, in fifth place with 98,129 residents; Sandy, in sixth place with 96,904 residents; and Layton, in ninth place with 81,773 people.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Which places grew the quickest?

Far and away, the fastest-growing place in Utah was Vineyard, whose population exploded by 8,924% since 2010.

The Utah County city, built on the site of the former Geneva steel mill, wasn’t much to look at 10 years ago, with a population of 139 people. Today, it has more than 12,500, according to the census.

The city that grew the most by population was Herriman, which added 33,359 residents, followed by Lehi with 28,500.

But while four of Utah County’s cities expanded by more than 10,000 people, Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, said the county’s overall numbers are slightly lower than she and other experts anticipated.

“We thought Utah County would have more growth than Salt Lake County,” she said, “but it doesn’t actually.”

Perlich said demographers anticipated the larger household sizes in Utah County would drive a greater population increase — even though it added about 44,000 homes compared to 64,000 in Salt Lake County.

“Our assumptions about persons per household were too aggressive for Utah County,” she said, “and not aggressive enough in Salt Lake County.”

After Vineyard, the Utah places that had the highest percentage growth over the past decade were:

  • Clear Creek, on the western edge of Carbon County, at 200% (went from four residents to 12).

  • Herriman at 153% (went from 21,785 residents to 55,144).

  • Bluffdale at 124% (went from 7,598 residents to 17,014).

  • Saratoga Springs at 112% (went from 17,781 residents to 37,696).

  • Eagle Mountain at 104% (went from 21,415 residents to 43,623).

  • Elk Ridge at 92% (went from 2,436 residents to 4,687).

  • Peter, in Cache County, at 92% (went from 324 residents to 623).

  • Stansbury Park, in Tooele County, at 91% (went from 5,145 residents to 9,851).

  • Mountain Green, in Morgan County, at 83% (went from 2,309 residents to 4,231).

What are some of the racial and ethnic changes?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Businesses in West Valley City along 3500 South reflect what is now a majority-minority city, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

In Salt Lake County, West Valley City and Kearns both became majority-minority in the past 10 years — and a number of other communities diversified even if whites still accounted for more than half the population.

Rep. Karen Kwan, who represents part of West Valley City and secured $500,000 in state funding for census outreach, said that comes as no surprise to her. She sees that increased diversity as she talks to constituents, goes to her daughter’s school and shops at her local Smith’s.

“I can’t go in [the grocery store] and buy everything that I would at a Chinese market,” the Murray Democrat said. “But there’s more products there that are diverse, and so that’s a good thing.”

In West Valley City, Hispanic or Latino residents — 12,400 of whom have moved in since 2010 — now make up more than 39% of the population. The number of whites, on the other hand, has fallen by about 8,500 now represent 44% of the city’s populace.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Businesses in West Valley City along 3500 South reflect what is now a majority-minority city, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

Kwan and Zavala Orozco both say they hope the changes reflected in this data will inspire policy shifts and give government officials a more accurate picture of the communities they represent.

“In terms of public officials or our elected officials, that understanding of diversity helps us to create polices that are not going to be disproportionately impacting BIPOC communities,” Kwan said.

Zavala Orozco said advocates have pushed elected leaders to provide services and written materials reflecting the different languages and ethnicities in their communities. But they have encountered pushback from officials who don’t believe the demand is there.

“So now we have data,” they said. “Now that we have the proof that we need different resources, we need more support and cultural competency ... for our community members that live here in cities.”

Salt Lake City was one notable exception to the trends experienced by in many surrounding communities — and actually saw the number of Hispanic or Latino residents dip by 133 people during the decade.

Zavala Orozco said the reason for that drop is clear: gentrification.

Rising housing costs in Salt Lake City have long been displacing communities of color, they said, a problem that Zavala Orozco and other advocates have tried to bring to the attention of local officials. With this census data, they might finally have the numbers to better make their case.

“The data is proving that actually this is happening not because our community is not growing,” Zavala Orozco said, “but because they are pushing us out.”