Salt Lake County residents now see more new neighbors arrive each year from Asia than from nearby Weber County, according to new Census Bureau data released Thursday.
Those Weber move-ins also are outnumbered by new arrivals from South America.
That’s not all. Central America provides more newcomers in Salt Lake County each year than nearby Cache County. Europe brings in more than Tooele County. And Africa and the Pacific Islands now each bring in more than nearby Wasatch County.
While Utah likes to call itself the crossroads of the West, data show that Salt Lake County is becoming a magnet for the world — at least it was before the pandemic hit.
“It has everything to do with the strength and diversity of our economy,” said Pam Perlich, senior demographer at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “Salt Lake County has a third of Utah’s population, but half of its economy.”
So Perlich says it attracts growing numbers of young international move-ins seeking high-tech and banking jobs and to study or teach at universities. Some are fleeing danger or economic hardship for a place with a comparatively vibrant economy. And others are returning missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
That comes from five years of survey data collected by the Census Bureau from 2014 to 2018 — before the pandemic and its recession hit. The data look at how people moved in that period between counties nationally, and from international areas.
Data show that people moving to Salt Lake County in a typical year arrived from 481 different counties in all 50 states, plus from nine regions globally.
The top two areas providing the most move-ins to Salt Lake County, not surprisingly, were adjacent Utah County (9,415 migrants in a typical year) and Davis County (4,282).
But at No. 3 and 4 were Asia (3,073 in a typical year) and South America (2,263), both well ahead of nearby No. 5 Weber County (1,521) and No. 6 Washington County (1,476). No. 7 was King County, Wash., home of Seattle (1,464).
Central America was No. 8 (1,369), just ahead of No. 9 Cache County (1,298) and No. 10 Clark County, Nev., with its population base of Las Vegas (1,240).
Europe was No. 11 (1,174), ahead of such local counties as No. 14 Tooele (934). And No. 24 Oceana and the Pacific Islands (412) and No. 26 Africa (364) were ahead of such local counties as No. 30 Wasatch (329).
Perlich notes that most people who move stay near home. For someone to move many thousands of miles, “These are people who are distinguished by their motivation, drive, inventiveness and creativity — because that’s not easy to do.” So she said international migrants tend to bring strength to their new communities.
“In our data, these generally tend to be people who are more highly educated and have a very attractive job to move to.” But some others are “migrants moving out of really tough circumstances and are in survival mode to try to create better futures for their kids.”
Either way, she said, “Immigrants have a profound impact on the places they go because they’ve worked darn hard to get there.”
Why come to Salt Lake County and Utah?
“A lot of people call us the Wall Street of the West because of all the banks we have here, including the industrial banks,” Perlich said. Also, she said more tech companies have moved to downtown Salt Lake City — not just Silicon Slopes in Lehi — because of “its synergy and capacity.”
The University of Utah is bringing in international “researchers, graduate students, professors” in “an international competition for talent,” she added, especially in the fields of medicine and biotechnology.
Perlich notes that research shows new migrants are “disproportionately young adults who are making these long distance-moves to come to where the jobs are, where the educational opportunities are.”
Continuing a trend since the Great Recession, most local international immigrants are from Asia — especially China and India.
“Prior to that, the main source region for Utah had been Latin America, a lot from Mexico,” Perlich noted. “But then immigration flows from Mexico basically reversed,” during the Great Recession when jobs were harder to find — and as anti-immigration political rhetoric targeting Latinos heated up.
The data also shows that in a typical year, about one of every six Salt Lake County residents moved somewhere. Among those who did, 64% stayed within Salt Lake County. Another 12% moved to other counties within the state. About 18% went to other states, and about 6% went abroad.