Arizona moving on up to No. 17 in population
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 5, 2005
Jon Kamman

It may not equal the prestige of winning some sort of national championship, but Arizona can now boast, "We're Number 17."

The state has grown to the 17th-largest in population, surpassing Maryland, Wisconsin and Missouri since the 2000 census.

Based on the latest population estimates from the Census Bureau, projections show that at current rates of growth, Arizona could displace Tennessee as No. 16 before the end of 2006. Washington state could yield 15th place by the end of the decade, when both states would have more than 6.5 million residents.

At that size, Arizona would be sure to pick up at least one and possibly two seats in Congress. A total of nine or 10 seats in the House would give the state at least the political muscle of Washington and Indiana and bring it close to that of Massachusetts and Virginia.

Experts and average citizens who contend with growth daily describe its impact in terms of "four C's" far different from those that traditionally have characterized Arizona.

With growth come clout, career opportunities, cross-cultural diversity and, inevitably, congestion, they say. (The four basics originally were copper, climate, cotton and cattle.)

Census estimates released last month showed Arizona behind Missouri in population by fewer than 11,000 people as of July 1. With Arizona growing at an average of 450 people a day, and Missouri at 97 a day, the difference would have been made up by July 31.

What does the growth mean to a few of the 5,743,834 people who call the state home?

At Super Carniceria Hermosillo in north-central Phoenix, Carolina Antunez, 33, said the butcher shop she opened 18 months ago is thriving, in part because of Valley growth.

"I've lived here for 20 years, since they started building some of the freeways," said Antunez, who immigrated from Nogales, Sonora.

"There are a lot more opportunities for Hispanic businesses. Now you find one on almost every corner."

The Valley isn't the only growth market, she noted. Her brother, Gustavo Sepulveda, 38, branched out from his butcher shop on Bell Road to open one in New River and another in Prescott Valley, both high-growth areas.

"He's doing very well," Antunez said.

Immigration slowed markedly in 2003-04, the data reflect. About 20 percent of the state's total growth of 165,000 was attributable to international immigration, compared with 28 percent in the two years after the 2000 census.

Still, Arizona ranked eighth nationally in the number of international immigrants since April 2000. The bureau makes no distinction between legal and undocumented immigrants.

Valley growth and changes in shopping habits have put the squeeze on Karsh's Bakery, a Phoenix institution now seeking a middle ground between mass marketing and neighborhood artisan bakery, said Arnie Gardner, 64, who bought the bakery with his father in 1968.

"On one hand, the growth has been bad because of the urban sprawl," Gardner said, "but I can't say it isn't good in the city.

"People keep moving way out - and I'm one of them," the New River resident said.

"People used to shop for bread and pastries every day, but now they stock up for a week or two. They don't go out of their way even if it means giving up quality."

Having raised a son and daughter in the city, Gardner and his wife, Gloria, still think it's a good place for a family.

"Every section of town is like a different city," he said.

Newcomers from other states accounted for half of the state's growth in the latest period, while natural growth, consisting of births in excess of deaths, accounted for 30 percent.

In all, the state's rate of growth for the year was 3 percent, up almost half a point from the rates of the previous three years.

That makes sense, considering improvements in the economy and at least a mild pace of job creation, said Tom Rex, an Arizona State University business researcher.

Rex said the census estimates are generally reliable but may be too high. Job growth has not been dramatic, he said, and many unemployed workers are now going back to work, so there isn't a huge demand for newcomers to the labor force.

"It would be odd for people to be moving here without jobs," Rex said.

From April 1, 2000, to the latest estimate on July 1, the state added 613,202 people.

One of them was Heather Nagler, 32, who grew up near Gilbert farms where roadrunners and coyotes roamed before the town became the nation's fastest-growing community. Nagler left for Southern California for six years, but she returned to the Valley two years ago, married, and bought the Candle Maker boutique in north Scottsdale three months ago.

"There's a lot more opportunity for small-business growth here," she said. "The flip side is traffic is getting more crazy.

"Also, housing prices were one of the reasons we came here, but now housing
is getting to be almost like Southern California."