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West Michigan counties are leading Michigan’s slight population gains, while recent growth in Macomb and Oakland counties is slowing, according to 2015 U.S. Census estimates released Thursday.

The county-level data show Kent and Ottawa counties again led state growth in 2015, while Wayne County ranked at the bottom, losing another 6,673 residents to 1.76 million. Flint’s Genesee County had the second largest drop, losing 2,085 to 410,849 as of July 1, 2015. That is before state government acknowledged the city’s water was contaminated with lead.

For the first time in eight years, Wayne County didn’t lead the nation in population declines. It fell to No. 2 behind Illinois’ Cook County, home to Chicago.

Experts say the latest estimates show the exodus from Wayne County, and Detroit, is slowing. The county averaged a loss of 12,300 per year from 2011 to 2014.

“It is clear that Detroit’s population is beginning to stabilize, due to a combination of new residents in the core and select neighborhoods and a large, poor population that is unable to move,” Kurt Metzger, a demographer and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit wrote in an email to The Detroit News. “Wayne’s out-migration decreased while that of Macomb, Oakland, and Washtenaw increased.”

Kent County gained by 6,144 residents, or 1 percent, to 636,369 and neighboring Ottawa increased 1.2 percent, or 3,357 residents, to 279,955. Those gains are down slightly from 2014’s increases but the counties “have seen consistent growth” over the last several years, said Xuan Liu, manager of research and data analysis for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

Kent County Commissioner Shana Shroll said millenials are attracted to Grand Rapids because of job opportunities, good schools and its downtown.

“Young people today are looking for something that is going to be unique and individual about where they choose to live,” said Shroll.

Michigan county population trends

Newly released Census Bureau data demonstrates changes in the populations of Michigan's counties. Click on a county to view 2015 population data. Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Overall, Michigan’s population increased by 0.06 percent to 9,922,576. The increases are dwarfed by growth in California and southern states such as Texas and Florida.

Much of Michigan’s population gains are from births outpacing deaths, rather that new residents, Metzger and Liu said.

“As the recovery of domestic automobile manufacturing industry entering mature stage and the rest of nation’s economy continues to grow, it could be more challenging for our region to attract people from the outside and keep them here,” Liu said.

In 2015, Oakland increased 0.2 percent, or 2,407, to 1.24 million residents, while Macomb rose 0.4 percent, or 3,204, to 864,840. Those rates of increase are down slightly from the previous year.

The six-county Detroit region added only 563 people over the year to 4.3 million, which includes Oakland, Macomb, Wayne, Lapeer, Livingston and St. Clair.

Last year’s population drop of 10,488 was the first for Illinois’ Cook County’s since 2007. With about 5.2 million residents, the change was a 0.2 percent decrease.

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com

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