Is Urban Growth Good for Rural Communities?

Artz, Kim and Orazem published an article in Iowa State University’s CARD Agricultural Policy Review this spring looking at why Iowa’s rural population was holding relatively steady as compared to neighboring Nebraska. The authors reasoned that Iowa maintained a larger rural population because it had more nine metropolitan areas spread across the state while Nebraska had four metro areas clustered in the far eastern part of the state.

You’re wondering how many metro areas are in Texas, and the answer is 25, along with 44 micropolitan areas (urban clusters with a population of 10,000 to 49,999—small cities). While many of these areas are in the eastern half of the state, several are distributed through West Texas as well.

metro and micro TX

Image from the Census Bureau.

If rural communities benefit from urban growth, Texas may be poised for success with almost 85% of our population residing in the state’s booming urban areas. However, growth patterns may be somewhat different in Texas.

For the most part, population growth was greatest in metro areas and surrounding counties. Obviously, there are exceptions.


Population Growth 2000 - 2010 (enlarged)

If we consider the USDA urban-rural continuum codes, we note even more similarities between metro status and growth. Metro counties averaged 18.9% growth between 2000 and 2010 as compared to 6.2% for micro counties and only 0.4% for rural counties. Metro counties had the highest average growth rate. The completely rural counties (codes 8 and 9) lost population on average, although individual counties gained population, just as some metro counties lost population. (Medians are similar to the averages for these statistics).

Rural-Urban Continuum Codes (enlarged)

Statistically though, we don’t see metro adjacency as a driver of growth in Texas. Adjacent rural counties (code 8) lost a smaller share of population than non-adjacent rural counties (code 9). But counties with small urban areas (codes 4 through 7) averaged higher growth when they were not adjacent.

Rural-Urban Continuum Code Definitions and Growth Rates

Metro counties: Average Growth Rate 2000-2010                   
1 (Counties in metro areas of 1 million population or more) 32.11%
2 (Counties in metro areas of 250,000 to 1 million population) 11.23%
3 (Counties in metro areas of fewer than 250,000 population) 6.42%
Nonmetro counties:
4 (Urban population of 20,000 or more, adjacent to a metro area) 5.93%
5 (Urban population of 20,000 or more, not adjacent to a metro area) 7.47%
6 (Urban population of 2,500 to 19,999, adjacent to a metro area) 2.77%
7 (Urban population of 2,500 to 19,999, not adjacent to a metro area) 3.38%
8 (Completely rural or less than 2,500 urban population, adjacent to a metro area) -0.40%
9 (Completely rural or less than 2,500 urban population, not adjacent to a metro area) -3.22%

Averages hide a lot of information. Never-the-less, there is some evidence that urbanized areas within metros are a center of gravity for population growth, as suggested by this ERS map showing US county-level population change between 2010 and 2013.

ERS US Pop change

Counties with a metropolitan core’s commuting zone are considered to be part of the metropolitan area, which creates a buffer zone of sorts around the core. Adjacent counties are adjacent to the whole metro area (including the commuting zone–and a lot of “rural” space and communities), not just the core city. This could help explain slower growth in the adjacent non-metro counties. Meanwhile, cities in the non-adjacent counties may offer the best job and amenity options within miles. Artz, Kim, and Orazem cite research from Iowa State that job growth in once county leads to population growth within a two-county radius, which makes commuting roads important. In the ERS map, we see the importance of transportation corridors (mainly interstates) and energy booms (Eagle Ford in Texas and Bakken in North Dakota).

About Rebekka Dudensing

Dr. Rebekka Dudensing is an Associate Professor and Extension Economist - Community Economic Development with Texas AgriLife Extension and Research in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M. Her research interests include the evaluation of economic development opportunities, taxation and public/private goods issues, entrepreneurship, and regional economic cooperation.
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