New Pittsburgh-area residents outnumber departing for 5th year

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More people are moving into the Pittsburgh metropolitan area than moving out, the fifth year in a row the region has reversed its reputation of stagnation after decades of mass departure.

According to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau to be released today, incoming residents to the Pittsburgh metropolitan area surpassed those leaving by nearly 4,500 between 2011 and 2012 in the counties of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland.

Allegheny County led the charge, adding an estimated 2,300 net domestic newcomers and 483 out-of-country immigrants.

It still adds up to slow growth -- a lopsided death-to-birth ratio knocked the region's total gains down to just 619 people, almost a 0 percent increase -- but it's far better than parts of the 1980s and '90s, when it seemed Pittsburgh would never stop bleeding.

"When [growth] turned a little bit positive, it was a big story, but a lot of folks said it was anomalous and not sustainable," said Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh. "Two years came and went, three years ... It shows signs this is not anomalous."

The seven-county metropolitan area's population was 2,360,733 in July 2012, according to Census estimates. Allegheny County stood at 1,229,338 residents.

Last year marked the fifth year in a row the region gained more new residents than it lost, and the third that saw a population increase overall. But these modest gains only returned the region to its population in 2007.

Indeed, there are still 70,000 fewer people than there were in 2000. The region's older demographic continues to hold down growth, with deaths consistently outnumbering births, Mr. Briem said. Talk of the region's appeal to young adults has yet to make a dent in that. But that appeal is undeniable, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. While young professionals may have been tempted by the region's relative stability during the Great Recession, it was Allegheny County's urban amenities that sealed the deal, he believes.

"When young people are moving here, they want to be closer, they want to be in the city," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "We're seeing changing attitudes about where people want to live. I think all that is feeding into the new revitalization of Allegheny County."

The Census Bureau calculated these estimates using birth, death and tax records, tracking the flow of workers across the country.

Nationally, the energy boom lands of the West saw the greatest one-year growth, fueled by shale and oil drilling. North Dakota, the epicenter of natural gas development in the Plains, hosts five of the top 10 fastest-growing counties.

Midland, Texas, topped the list of fastest-growing metropolitan areas, with a 4.6 percent jump between 2011 and 2012.

But Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale territory missed out. The 10 top gas-producing counties collectively saw a net population loss of 0.1 percent, or 1,200 people. In most counties, losses among the elderly wiped out any gains from migration, with net deaths outnumbering net new residents 2 to 1.

Westmoreland County was the most lopsided, losing more than 1,100 residents after births and deaths and gaining only 19. Meanwhile, it ranks No. 7 in gas production in Pennsylvania.

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