Move over, Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

Sandoval County, home to booming Duke City suburb Rio Rancho, was the fastest-growing county in New Mexico in people and percentage growth from July 2017 to July 2018, according to newly released county and metropolitan area population statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Experts say the new numbers reflect a mixed picture for a state slowly recovering from the recession, as well as demographics that reveal the struggles of a tenuous economy in urban centers and significant population loss in rural locales.

Much of the growth occurred in the Rio Rancho area, where Sandoval County added 2,555 residents in one year — nearly twice as many as Doña Ana County, which was second at 1,336 additional new residents. Sandoval’s 1.8 percent growth over one year was triple Doña Ana’s 0.6 percent, the census statistics made public Wednesday show.

The nation’s fastest growing counties, many in Texas and Florida, topped 4 percent growth for the year. The fastest growing county, Williams in energy-rich North Dakota, grew by 5.9 percent.

Bernalillo County, which encompasses Albuquerque, added only 15 residents as the state’s largest county, just four more than Catron County, which is 189 times smaller.

Santa Fe County was the third-largest county on July 1, 2018, with 150,056 residents — but it had only the seventh-largest growth rate at 0.3 percent. Santa Fe County’s population remained just 4,877 residents ahead of Sandoval County.

The fastest-growing counties over the past year in percentage increase were Sandoval and Los Alamos; Eddy, Otero and Lea in oil country; and Doña Ana.

The largest population loss was in San Juan County in northwestern New Mexico, which dropped 1,859 residents. The counties with the largest population percentage losses were largely in rural parts of the state: Harding at minus 4.7 percent, De Baca, Union, Guadalupe, Hidalgo and San Juan, all of which lost 1.5 percent or more of their population.

Twenty-two of New Mexico’s 33 counties lost population from mid-2017 to mid-2018. Population loss is an enduring trend in New Mexico: 23 counties have lost population since 2010, with the largest loss of people in San Juan County, which has shed 5,002 residents. Area officials there have long worried about how changes in the energy industry would affect the area.

“I would say the state of New Mexico growing at a slower rate than other Western states is not necessarily a bad thing,” said Ryan Eustice, an economist at the New Mexico Economic Development Department. “This allows cities, counties and states to better plan for infrastructure, housing, job creation and education.”

Eustice said he believes population growth could pick up with emerging industries in New Mexico such as film and television production, sustainable green energy, cybersecurity, outdoor recreation, aerospace, and sustainable and value-added agriculture and bioscience.

“These industry sectors are just now blossoming,” Eustice said.

New Mexico had an estimated 24,678 more people move out of the state than move into the state between 2010 and 2017, said Jacqueline Miller, senior research analyst at the University of New Mexico’s Geospatial and Population Studies. That is about the equivalent of Carlsbad’s population.

“We seem to be losing our working population,” Miller said. “They leave and they take their kids with them. We lose the next generation.”

Demographics is a three-legged stool: birth, death, migration. New Mexico is a perfect storm of slow growth and rural population loss, she said.

“Part of that has to do with an aging population, especially in the rural counties,” Miller said. “We’re not having that many kids. We’re not naturally increasing, and people tend to leave.”

Sandoval is also the fastest-growing New Mexico county since 2010, with a 10.3 percent growth rate that’s comfortably ahead of oil-rich Eddy and Lea counties at 7.6 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, over the past nine years.

The top growing counties in the country have grown by more than 36 percent since 2010.

Bernalillo County has added 16,214 people or 2.4 percent since 2010, but Sandoval County nearly matched it with 13,559 new people. Doña Ana County has the state’s second-largest population, but the Las Cruces metro has grown at the same 4 percent rate as Santa Fe since 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

The fastest-growing New Mexico counties by percentage since 2010 are Sandoval, Eddy, Lea, Los Alamos, Otero, Santa Fe, Doña Ana and Bernalillo — a mix of the largest population counties and Permian Basin oil boom counties.

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