Sometime around the middle of this century, Albany will surpass Corvallis as the mid-Willamette Valley's largest city — with Lebanon coming up fast.
In addition to a growing population, you can also expect the region to become more urbanized, with an older population and significant transportation challenges.
Those are among the highlights emerging from new 50-year forecasts released this month by the Portland State University Population Research Center.
By 2067, the center predicts, Albany will grow from its current 54,055 residents to a metropolis of 91,560, a 1 percent average annual increase that adds up to a 69.4 percent total population bump. For now, Corvallis is bigger with a population of 61,449, but a slower projected growth rate (averaging 0.6 percent per year) results in a smaller total of 84,495 a half-century from now, a net gain of just 37.5 percent.
Lebanon, meanwhile, is expected to grow by 1.1 percent a year over the same span for a 78.4 percent increase, from 19,416 today to 34,628 in 2067.
Overall, Linn County’s population is expected to grow by 47.5 percent over the next 50 years, from 123,626 today to 182,339 in 2067. Forecasters predict Benton County will grow by 36.1 percent, from 92,287 to 125,570.
Several factors weigh heavily in the different growth trajectories of the region’s two largest communities, said Nicholas Chun, who manages the Oregon Population Forecast Program for the PSU research center.
For one thing, Albany officials report a much higher number of residential development projects in the pipeline than their counterparts in Corvallis. For another, enrollment increases at Oregon State University, which have been a major growth driver for years, appear to be leveling off.
What’s more, Albany has a substantially higher birth rate than Corvallis — in part because many of those OSU students tend to move away after graduation.
“In Albany there’s a good deal of natural increase,” Chun said. “For Corvallis, we see a large in-migration of college students, but we also see a large out-migration of postgraduates.”
The PSU forecasts also predict population changes for smaller areas over the next 50 years.
In Benton County, projections call for Adair Village to grow from 928 to 2,255; North Albany from 7,586 to 14,305; Monroe from 637 to 705; and Philomath from 5,169 to 8,546.
In Linn County, Brownsville is expected to grow from 1,740 to 2,567; Halsey from 925 to 1,547; Harrisburg from 3,770 to 5,077; Millersburg from 1,795 to 5,147; Scio from 938 to 1,099; Sweet Home from 9,250 to 13,300; Tangent from 1,286 to 1,688; and Waterloo from 232 to 297.
Will Summers, a regional workforce analyst with the Oregon Employment Department, has been slicing and dicing the raw numbers from PSU and has drawn a number of conclusions about what the forecasts mean for the mid-valley.
For one thing, he notes that both counties will become much more urbanized, with the share of population living outside designated urban growth boundaries projected to shrink from 18 percent to 12 percent in Benton County and from 28 percent to 19 percent in Linn.
That’s partly because of Oregon land-use laws that make it difficult to convert farm or forest land for residential development, and partly because of limitations on the capacity of wells and septic fields in rural parts of the region.
“That will push everybody into the cities,” Summers said.
He’s concerned that job growth in those cities may not keep pace with the rise in population, forcing many people to drive long distances to work.
“I think commuting across (county) borders will increase,” Summers said. “It could get to the point where they make Linn and Benton a single metropolitan statistical area.”
At the same time, he notes that the mid-valley’s population is expected to grow older over the next half-century, with the share of people in the working years of 20 to 64 shrinking from 58.2 percent to 54.2 percent. That could make it tough for some employers to find staff, further stressing the economy.
But Seth Sherry, a community and economic development planner with the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments, says there are programs in place to combat those problems, pointing to business incubators such as Oregon RAIN.
“Our region has been really thoughtful in trying to make sure we can retain our younger population by supporting entrepreneurial efforts,” Sherry said.
He’s also encouraged by what he sees as a trend toward more cooperative rather than competitive economic development efforts in the region.
“Communities have often tried to be everything to everybody, and I think folks are coming around to the idea of focusing on their strengths,” Sherry said. “That’s a really positive and promising thing. I’m glad we’re having those discussions.”
Ali Bonakdar, executive director of the Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which focuses on transportation planning, cautioned that it’s tough to make long-term projections with a high degree of accuracy.
“Who knows what may happen 50 years from now?” he asked. “Twenty years ago we never anticipated the revolution the internet created, or the cellphone.”
Nevertheless, Bonakdar thinks transportation may be in for a similar upheaval in the coming years, and he’s not sure we’re ready for it.
“With the advent of autonomous vehicles, I think we will see very soon a completely different transportation system,” he said.
What that system will look like is far from clear at this point, Bonakdar said, because the Federal Highway Administration is still writing regulations to govern such vehicles. But he is sure of one thing: The region’s growing population will need more efficient ways of getting around.
“Obviously, this trend of one person, one vehicle is not going to work,” Bonakdar said.
“We need to invest in mass transportation and even in different technologies of mass transportation.”